Consumers want companies to be transparent about their environmental impact

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill

Consumers the world over are looking to companies to quantify the direct environmental impact of their purchases, according to research released by Mintel this month. 

But that information needs to be clear, authentic, and unequivocal.

For example, in the Mintel Sustainability Barometer just released, consumers from 16 countries were asked what encourages them to buy a product or service which claims to benefit or protect the environment. Of the respondents, 48 per cent said they are most likely to want information on how their purchase has a direct impact on the environment – such as one tree planted per purchase. 

A similar number said they were looking for labelling to show the environmental impact, such as the amount of CO2 emitted, and 42 per cent said they were looking for information measuring impact with quantities they can understand – think litres of water used or distance travelled in kilometres. 

Finally, two in five looked for recognisable certification to prove the company or manufacturer’s standards, such as B-corp.

“Consumers want companies to use simple terms and data, and to explain the direct and measurable environmental impact of their purchases,” said Richard Cope, senior trends consultant at Mintel Consulting. 

“To build belief in science and convert potential into actual purchases, companies need to offer up a new sustainability lexicon that consumers can easily understand.”

Cope said the survey showed that consumers want to understand their impact to feel better about their purchases, knowing they are having a positive impact on the environment. 

“These challenges are analogous to those around food nutrition labelling, so it makes sense that a sustainability ‘traffic light system’ is being piloted this autumn by brands like Nestle and major supermarkets in the UK. This promises to marry visual convenience with the rigour of objective, quantified third-party qualification. However, consumers will want the ability to learn more about how and where the product footprint is being measured.” 

Companies and governments must take responsibility

The barometer also concluded that consumers believe companies to be the most responsible for many sustainability issues – along with governments – but they do acknowledge they must play their role as well. 

About half of the consumers from around the world who participated in the Mintel study said they believe companies are responsible for increasing the amount of packaging that is recycled, while only a quarter believe responsibility lies with consumers and a fifth with governments. 

However, 41 per cent of global consumers believe that companies are responsible for reducing emissions from air transport, compared to 36 per cent who believe it is up to governments, and just 12 per cent who think it is consumers’ responsibility. 

But on a more positive note, 54 per cent believe there is still time to save the planet and 51 per cent believe they can make a positive impact on the environment by changing their behaviour. 

The most positive were Canadians (65 per cent), Italians (64 per cent), Germans and Spaniards (both 59 per cent) and British (56 per cent).  

“Given that the International Energy Agency (IEA) believes that over half of the cumulative emissions reductions required to reach zero are linked to consumer choices, one might hope consumers accept more responsibility,” said Cope. “However, our research shows consumers say companies are most responsible. 

“There are several possible reasons why consumers put the onus on companies. More effective activism, for example, promotes the belief that companies are to blame – whilst the sheer scale of the problem demands a response that feels beyond the capabilities of mere consumers. 

“It’s good to see that consumers don’t completely absolve themselves. In fact, in most countries, a small majority still believe there is enough time for redemption, and where there is this optimism it’s closely linked to a sense that consumer behaviour can make a difference.”

Cope says educating consumers about sustainability should help increase their engagement, as there seems to be a sustainability gap – a striking difference between consumers’ experience with the causes of climate change and the reality of where the responsibilities lie. 

“One of the major challenges for companies and brands is how to effectively close this understanding gap to better position their products and services as part of the sustainability solution. More companies need to take the lead in asserting their positive credentials, but also in explaining what they view as the real societal problems—as well as their main business challenges. Messaging and campaigns will be most impactful if brands coordinate with government efforts or embrace the zeitgeist for environmental awakening documentaries like Seaspiracy and Kiss the Ground,” he said.  

The full report can be downloaded here.   

  • Main image credit: @vitek.bolecek via Twenty20 
Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill is a content writer with more than 30 years of experience in five countries. His style has built upon award-winning success in news and features in the print media to leadership in digital communication, spanning news websites, social media, magazines, brochures, and contributing to books. Recognising the devastating impact of consumer behaviour on the planet and wanting to help make a difference Robert launched Viable.Earth as a platform to celebrate positive contributions by brands, companies and individuals towards reducing environmental impact and improve sustainability – especially in the fields of fashion, beauty, food, lifestyle, and transportation.

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