Sustainability: Studies Show Impact Of Social Influencers, Rise In Product Labeling

New research shows the impact social media influencers can have on consumers’ sustainable behaviors, and how CPG products marketed with sustainability labeling have fared better than others over the past five years.

In a project conducted by Unilever’s Dove and Hellmann’s brands in conjunction with the United Kingdom-based nonprofit Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), influencers were shown to have the single biggest impact on peoples’ green choices.

Separately, research firm Circana and the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business released data indicating that sustainably marketed products had nearly twice the five-year compound annual growth rate of conventionally marketed items.

Unilever and BIT built an online platform populated with environmental activist-created content to create a “real world social media experience” and recruited 6,000 consumers whose demographics aligned with those of Instagram and TikTok users.

After the consumers were shown the platform’s content, 2,500 reported back on whether it had affected their actual behaviors.

Of those respondents, 78% agreed that influencers had the single biggest impact on their green choices—ahead of television documentaries (48%), news articles (37%) and government campaigns (20%).

The project was designed to encourage the use of less plastic and reduce food waste in the home.

Among the respondents, 83% agreed that Instagram and TikTok “are helpful places to seek out advice on how to be greener at home,” according to Unilever and BIT.

Optimistic content—characterized by practical demonstrations of how to live sustainably—was effective in driving sustainable behaviors, while branded content was viewed as just as engaging, authentic and informative as unbranded content, according to Hellmann’s global brand vice president Christina Bauer-Plank.

“We undertook this research to understand how we can best help consumers to make more sustainable choices,” Bauer-Plank tells CPG Insider. “With 61% of food waste occurring in the home, at Hellmann’s we’re on a mission to help consumers tackle food waste by providing simple tips and recipes to use up leftovers in the kitchen.”

Circana—the new name for the recently merged IRI and NPD Group—and NYU Stern Center analyzed point-of-sale data in 36 CPG categories from 2015 through 2022, covering more than 250,000 products whose SKUs had packaging labeled “sustainable.”

Sustainably marketed items had a five-year compound annual growth rate of 9.43% compared to 4.98% for those conventionally marketed, and 5.68% across all 36 categories.

Some categories have seen a bigger increase than others regarding products with sustainable labeling.

The biggest gains have come in deodorant, floor cleaners, natural cheese, soup, skin care and weight control.


Categories with the least sustainable-label features include food and trash bags, carbonated beverages, laundry care, pet food and treats, chocolate candy, cookies and energy drinks.


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