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Marketing and Comms
M&S the First of Few Companies That Come to UK Consumers’ Minds as Being Environmentally Responsible

New research released this week by the Carbon Trust reveals that, while consumers see business as the key to economic recovery, they do not yet see it as key to fixing our environmental problems, with over two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents unable to name a company taking the issue of environmental sustainability seriously.

Respondents who could name companies they thought were walking the sustainability talk were quick to mention retailer Marks & Spencer (the most popular answer), followed in order by the Co-operative Group, Tesco, BP and Sainsbury’s.

The research, conducted amongst 1,819 UK adults for the Carbon Trust by YouGov, found that only five percent see businesses as being most effective in helping the environment, when compared to environmental pressure groups, academics and the government. By contrast, 22 percent of those surveyed see businesses as being the most effective in helping the economic recovery.

The disparity suggests that even those companies that are communicating their actions to be more sustainable are not yet associated with taking responsibility for the environment (findings consistent with those released last fall in Brandlogic and CRD Analytics’ 2012 Leadership Report, which highlighted the disconnect between companies’ sustainability performance and the public’s perception of it).

Instead, the public sees the quest for a greener future as lying firmly in the hands of environmental organizations, which are perceived as the most important players in helping the environment to recover and are most likely to be trusted out of any group on the environment.

“Whilst it’s clear that consumers still care about the environmental future, their perspective on where the responsibility falls is skewed. It cannot be solely down to environmental groups to shoulder the weight of protecting our planet’s natural resources. Businesses have an enormous role to play here and need to be seen to be doing their part,” explains Tom Delay, Chief Executive of the Carbon Trust.

That is not to say that consumers are disinterested in the future of the environment. The demand for green products appears to be increasing — only six percent said they are less likely to buy a sustainable product and/or service than five years ago, while almost three in ten (27 percent) said they are more likely. Increased concern about the personal impact of what they buy on the environment was the most important reason for this (45 percent) and 43 percent of those surveyed said they lead a more sustainable life than five years ago.

On a further optimistic note, five years after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the UK public is confident that the economy can be fixed and are looking to businesses, consumers and governments respectively to take control of this.

Delay added, “These signs of confidence in economic future success should strengthen the case for a more sustainable future. As businesses look for more ways to grow, sustainability should become a golden opportunity for investment, allowing them to become more resilient to future environmental resource shocks and to cut their costs and grow their revenues. The smart companies will invest now and put sustainability inside their businesses.”

While UK consumers clearly recognize M&S’ efforts to be environmentally responsible, the company continues to make strides to improve its social sustainability, as well. Earlier this week, M&S announced a year-long partnership with social enterprise technology provider Good World Solutions to facilitate direct communications with workers in its clothing supply chain via GWS’ Labor Link mobile technology. As part of financial literacy and health and nutrition training programs corresponding to its Plan A initiative, the company has already used the technology to survey over 2,000 workers across 13 suppliers in India and Sri Lanka.

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