Published 9 months ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Fabien Burgue
Despite growing corporate efforts to drive sustainable change and climate action, there’s an underlying issue: a lack of consumer trust towards companies’ claims on this front.
Around the world, major environmental events and extreme weather conditions have
pushed climate change to top of mind for people worldwide. According to
iStock and Getty Images’
“climate change” ranks top of the list of concerns for individuals across the
globe — higher than inflation, the energy crises, or issues surrounding world
However, there is still a general sense of ambiguity on who is accountable for
driving forward actions to combat climate risks — is it the government? Big
businesses? Or are individuals most responsible? Our insights tell us people
globally believe it is a shared responsibility; yet each actor’s expectations
seem to be first on others, rather than on themselves.
Historically, across different industries, ad campaigns have promoted the idea
of individual responsibility. We are used to seeing visuals highlighting
individual sustainable practices — from recycling to biking to using reusable
shopping bags. All of these concepts, mostly driven by brands and policies,
reinforce the idea that sustainability is an individual responsibility.
On the other hand, as VisualGPS found, individuals believe that government is
the primary agent responsible for dealing with sustainability efforts and
environmental concerns related to global climate change; and that businesses are
as responsible as individuals for protecting the planet and enacting sustainable
Join us for a transformational experience at SB Brand-Led Culture Change — May 8-10 in Minneapolis. This event brings together hundreds of brand leaders eager to delve into radical lifestyle shifts and sustainable consumer behavior change at scale. The trends driving cultural acceleration are already underway, and you can be at the forefront of this transformative movement.
Since the first UN Climate Change Conference held in 1995, people have been
able to follow some countries’ governments' progress in dealing with climate
change issues, while also seeing how corporate philanthropy evolved into
impactful CSR programs. Today, 7 out of 10 individuals around the globe believe
they have made a lot of progress toward living a more environmentally
sustainable life, VisualGPS found.
Nonetheless, despite all involved agents taking part in making a change —
denoting a high level of climate awareness — there’s an underlying issue yet to
be solved: VisualGPS also revealed a lack of consumer trust towards companies’
claims on this front. More than 80 percent of consumers believe products are
made to seem environmentally friendlier than they are, followed by distrust of
products that are labeled ''environmentally friendly'' as a marketing ploy; and
they believe companies claim they abide by ESG (Environmental, social, and
governance) standards but do not show enough evidence for it.
The 2023 Edelman Trust
Barometer reported an
average five-to-one margin of respondents who want businesses to play a bigger,
not smaller, role in addressing climate change. The same research found
respondents have low trust in the government; in contrast, businesses continue
to gain trust around the world and are the sole institution seen as competent
and ethical — showing companies are uniquely positioned to bridge the
sustainability trust gap, fill the void left by governments, and showcase the
invaluable role they play in addressing climate change.
When it comes to deciding which company to use or buy from, 84 percent of people
believe it is important that a company uses sustainable business practices and
extends these to their
yet more than half claim it's too much work to research what brands are actively
doing to mitigate climate risks. Knowing most consumers make purchase decisions
based on visual content — and also expect brands to take a public stand and
drive real action on social and environmental issues — companies and brands can
lean on better visuals to tell their sustainability story and make their efforts
known to engage with consumers.
Regularly, visuals related to environmentalism and sustainability rely on
— think, the lone polar bear or hands cupping a sapling — unimaginatively used
to convey environmental issues. Many brands also focus on conceptual images and
videos that are too abstract to stand out or resonate in a crowded visual
landscape. Instead, businesses could focus on large-scale (often policy-backed)
visuals — such as actions in the realm of infrastructure, renewable energy,
agriculture, water conservation, or management of green spaces — imagery
representing topics and initiatives that could transcend the barrier of
practices often seen as
As the climate crisis accelerates, consumers are becoming more knowledgeable
about what is sustainable; how our decisions, products and policies impact the
environment; who is responsible — and whether or not they trust corporate
and government sustainability claims. In turn, businesses should look to visual
images and messaging that rise to the occasion.
Published May 1, 2023 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Dr. Rebecca Swift is Global Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images, based in London.