Published 1 month ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Yan Krukau
“This puts the onus firmly on brands to properly educate consumers so that
awareness and understanding of major climate-related terms are increased across
the board.” — Paul Flatters, founder/CEO, Trajectory
New research from insights firm Trajectory
and UK-based communications agency Fleet Street
reveals that consumer understanding of some of the most common terms that
businesses use when communicating about sustainability is worryingly low.
The Language of Sustainability,
which surveyed 1,000 UK adults, reveals that just 11 percent of consumers feel
they have a thorough understanding of the term “carbon
— despite it being one of the primary methods that businesses rely on to hit
For another term that has been widely adopted by brands, “circular
economy,” just 4
percent of consumers polled claiming to be confident in defining it — indicating
a clear language barrier between businesses and consumers.
A handful of much more widely used terms fared better: 25 percent of consumers
feel they have a thorough understanding of “green” and “sustainability”
(26 percent); with percentages improving for “organic” (32 percent),
“environmentally friendly” (35 percent), “locally grown/seasonal” (40
percent) and “recycling” (55 percent); and a surprising 59 percent say they
understand “net zero.”
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Despite widespread media coverage and recent
banning the use of “single-use
only 47 percent of consumers are confident at defining what that term means —
indicating a further level of disconnect between consumers and businesses.
“While many businesses and brands are taking critical action to tackle the
environmental crisis, it is clear from this research that communication is key
and much more work needs to be done to engage consumers, starting with the
language used — as a significant amount of it doesn’t appear to mean much to
them,” says Fleet Street co-founder Mark
“The lack of understanding around what many businesses would probably consider
to be standard terms is striking. Many businesses are investing very heavily in
sustainability, setting ambitious objectives in the process; but there is a big
piece missing — there’s massive work to be done on the language used; and the
more consumers understand, the more likely they are to positively engage with
and respond to what is clearly an enormous, generational issue.”
The data show a clear correlation between understanding and favorability, as the
terms that consumers feel the most positive about — recycling, single-use
plastic, and locally sourced/grown — are also the most widely understood.
The analysis indicates that Gen Z (18- to 24-year-olds) are more confident
when it comes to understanding what these key terms mean. For example,
“sustainability” was understood by 24 percent more consumers from the 18-24 age
group compared to consumers aged
— confirming that younger generations are .
When taking education into consideration, those with higher levels of education
have greater confidence in their understanding of key terms. For example,
“circular economy” was understood by 11 percent more consumers who have a
university degree or higher compared to those without. Interestingly, the term
was understood by 30 percent more consumers who are still in formal education
compared to older consumers who left education after secondary school — which
suggests that there is a greater understanding amongst pupils now than in
Despite the confusion around some of the key terms, the data reveal the
importance of effective communication: 90 percent of consumers think it’s
important that brands talk about their sustainability
while 68 percent are more likely to buy from a company that has a clear
environmental strategy in place.
47 percent of consumers think brands have the most responsibility when it comes
to delivering action on climate change, and almost half (48 percent) think that
companies are acting sincerely in their efforts to make a difference.
“Many businesses have taken huge strides in recent years to develop and
implement effective sustainability strategies; however, it’s essential that it’s
seen as a boardroom issue and not something that is hastily added on,” Stretton
said. “More than half of consumers don’t believe businesses are acting sincerely
in their efforts, which further indicates the role that communication plays in
engaging consumers and ensuring that the right message is getting across.”
“The data indicate that there is a clear correlation between consumer
understanding and how positively they feel about a specific term. This puts the
onus firmly on brands to properly educate consumers so that awareness and
understanding of major climate-related terms are increased across the board,”
said Paul Flatters,
founder and CEO of Trajectory. “The fact that just under half of all consumers
believe that brands hold the most responsibility is evidence of the power
businesses hold; so it is vitally important that the issue is taken seriously
and action is taken to engage with and further educate them.”
Published Jan 26, 2024 2pm EST / 11am PST / 7pm GMT / 8pm CET