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Content Creators Hold Back on Promoting Sustainability Amid Greenwashing Fears

Unilever study uncovers barriers influencers face around creating sustainability content. The company is partnering with climate-focused nonprofits and launching a Creator Council to help address these barriers.

A first-of-its-kind study by Unilever has revealed that although 60 percent of social media content creators want to make a positive impact on the environment, the majority (84 percent) are holding back from mentioning sustainability more in their content. While their content has the potential to drive more sustainable behaviors — with 78 percent of consumers claiming in an earlier study that influencers have the biggest impact on their sustainable purchasing and lifestyle habits — content creators fear greenwashing amongst other barriers.

According to the study — which polled the views of 232 content creators across YouTube, TikTok and Instagram in the UK, US, Brazil and the Philippines — almost two-thirds (63 percent) are creating more sustainability content this year compared to last year; and three-quarters (76 percent) want to create even more in the future.

But content creators say they are holding back, with the fear of greenwashing coming out as the top barrier for over a third (38 percent). Other barriers include finding it difficult to transition from the main focus of their content to sustainability; thoughts on what is or isn’t sustainable can change; and not feeling educated enough on the key sustainability issues — all receiving 21 percent. Concerns about being cancelled was cited as a problem by 18 percent of respondents.

While more than half (58 percent) of influencers say they feel confused about sustainability or environmental labels, the study also found that over 9 in 10 (91 percent) would find each of the following types of advice helpful:

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    access to content or resources on sustainable living;

  • direct support to ask questions on sustainability briefs;

  • support dealing with audience comments;

  • and access to training about making trustworthy statements about company and product sustainability claims.

To help address this, Unilever — alongside a coalition of partners including sustainability nonprofits and a new Creator Council — today calls on other brands, agencies and technology companies to join forces with them to help content creators authentically and accurately drive more sustainable consumer choices through social media content.

The new coalition of partners includes sustainability experts from Count Us In, United Nations Development Programme, Rare and Futerra Solutions Union; as well as an independent Creator Council — a community of social media content creators across travel, beauty and lifestyle sectors specifically brought together to advise on and shape this initiative.

“We have long known that climate action isn’t only for governments. In fact, the IPCC reports tell us that public action could quickly save 5 percent of ‘demand side’ carbon emissions,” says Count Us In co-founder Eric Levine. “There has never been a more critical moment in history to be part of a coalition that puts creators at the heart of advancing new solutions. Using credible, science-based guidelines and behavior change theory, we have the potential to influence billions of people through the collective reach of the creator economy.”

The coalition will work to co-create an industry-wide digital solution that will bring together social media content creators, nonprofits and brands to accelerate accurate and effective sustainability content built upon science and behavior change theory to encourage more sustainable behaviors. Partners are currently developing a framework and guidelines to ensure the solutions are in line with the latest climate science.

Dr Adanna Steinacker — entrepreneur, public speaker, digital influencer and member of the Creator Council — says: “As a digital content creator, I feel a responsibility to inspire my audience with solutions that are better for our environmental and planetary health. It is crucial that brands and creators unite in this mission, dissecting science-backed information into creative storytelling that resonates with the public and influences change on a global scale. With adequate brand support, we can enhance sustainability content on social media, inform our communities accurately, and collectively contribute to a better environment."

“We know that sustainability content on social media has the potential to drive more sustainable behaviors; but it needs to be informative and meaningful content,” asserts Rebecca Marmot, Unilever’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “Climate Week NYC 2023 is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with others and empower influencers to communicate on the key issues with credibility.”

Unilever invites brands, nonprofits and social media content creators to join the coalition by contacting Count Us In at [email protected].

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