G&S Business Communications has released its eighth annual Sense & Sustainability Study, gauging US consumers’ perceptions of the corporate commitment to environmental and social responsibility. The findings of this year’s study demonstrate a considerable increase in the number of Americans placing greater responsibility on government, businesses and themselves to serve as environmental and social stewards.
“Businesses and their supply chains are under public scrutiny for their environmental and societal impact, which means industry and government leaders must be prepared to address consumers, employees, investors and voters more directly as part of mainstream audiences. In the intense competition for audience attention, business communicators are best positioned to emotionally connect people with complex topics such as corporate social responsibility and sustainable investing,” said Ron Loch, Managing Director and Sustainability Consulting Leader at G&S.
According to the report, a majority of Americans believe the public and government bear the greatest responsibility for keeping society and nature safe along the supply chain, followed closely by suppliers that provide ingredients, parts or processes used in goods and services purchased by consumers.
G&S noticed a marked difference in results before and after the 2016 US presidential election about which groups must bear the burdens of environmental and social responsibility. The largest gains were among Americans who believe the greatest responsibility rests with retailers (37 percent in 2017 vs. 30 percent in 2015) and government (52 percent in 2017 vs. 48 percent in 2015). In contrast, there was a notable decline among Americans who ranked non-governmental organizations (43 percent in 2017 vs 50 percent in 2015) and religious groups (30 percent in 2017 vs. 35 percent in 2015) as those holding the most responsibility.
Companies supporting economic growth through job creation and ecological conservation by conserving natural resources are viewed most favorably in terms of sustainability efforts. The findings also found that companies using celebrity spokespeople to promote their sustainability work are rarely perceived as creating a positive impression.
Despite growing demand for transparency, the study found that fewer Americans are actively seeking information about what businesses are doing to promote sustainability.
On the investor side, G&S discovered that environmental, social and governance issues are important factors in guiding investment decisions. Americans are particularly guided by ESG issues that highlight business impact on individuals: strong customer relationships rooted in respect (81 percent), positive reputation earned for ethical practices by management (74 percent) and fair wages to retain top talent (73 percent). However, when considering the influence of product features tied to sustainability or social consciousness, retail investors are split about whether these brand traits matter (54 percent) or not (46 percent) in their investing decisions.