A new global consumer study from Unilever reveals fascinating insights regarding consumer interest in and commitment to sustainable products, as well as an over $1 trillion market opportunity for brands that can effectively and transparently market the sustainability of their wares.
The survey asked 20,000 adults across Brazil, India, Turkey, the UK and the US how sustainability concerns affected their shopping decisions and product use – as well as confirming the public’s high expectations of brands when it comes to having a positive social and environmental impact, the study’s findings uncover an unprecedented opportunity for companies that get it right. Among the findings: 21 percent said they would support brands that clearly conveyed the sustainability aspects of their products through their marketing and packaging. With Unilever claiming that the market for sustainable goods currently sits at $2.65 trillion (€2.5 trillion), this creates just over $1 trillion (€966 billion) in opportunities for brands who can effectively communicate their products’ sustainable attributes.
"This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, it has become an imperative," said Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer. “To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability. Instead, they must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials, and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.”
While 33 percent of those surveyed said they would purchase a product if they believe it benefits society and the environment, the level of motivation varies widely from country to country: In the UK (where price and brand have tended to outrank sustainability in driving purchase decisions), 53 percent said they felt better about buying sustainable products, far fewer than in Brazil (85 percent), India (88 percent) and Turkey (85 percent); in the US, the figure was 78 percent.
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The higher levels of sustainable purchasing preferences in emerging markets could be because consumers are more directly exposed to the impacts of unsustainable product development and business practices, such as energy shortages, air and water pollution, and food scarcity. While this isn’t the case in the U.S., the number of conscientious consumers seems to be on a consistent rise: As of 2014, 77 percent of U.S. consumers ranked sustainability high on their list of criteria, at least when deciding which foods to buy; by 2015, the overwhelming majority of Americans surveyed said they have a more positive image (91 percent), more trust (87 percent) and more loyalty (87 percent) toward companies that show they support social or environmental issues.
For its part, Unilever seems to have hit the nail on the head in terms of creating brand and social value through sustainability: Earlier this year, it reported that its portfolio of Sustainable Living brands — brands including Dove, Knorr, Dirt Is Good, OMO, Lipton, Hellmann’s and Ben & Jerry’s, which have integrated sustainability into both their purpose and products — delivered nearly half of Unilever’s overall growth, and grew 30 percent faster than the rest of the business.