Report: Brands not doing a good enough job of social and environmental action

New Who Do You Believe report shows consumers want sustainability from brands and business, yet three out of four can't name one doing just that

Three out of four Australians can’t name a brand they believe is helping improve social or environmental issues and 86 per cent are sceptical about claims businesses are making on either front, a new report has found.

According to the Who Do You Believe? report released by agencies, Republic of Everyone and The Bravery and produced by research firm, Mobium Group, 78 per cent of consumers claim to be considering a brand’s social and environment impact when making a purchase. A further 56 per cent use these factors when choosing their future place of work.

Yet three in four of the 2040 consumer surveyed couldn’t name a brand or business they believe is actually helping in terms of societal or environment challenges. Of those who managed to come up with something, one in five named Woolworths, one in 10 named Coles and one in 20 names Cotton On. Also making the top 10 were Aldi, Lush, BHP, Telstra, The Body Shop, Qantas and McDonald’s.

Overall the grocery category led the way in terms of salience for sustainability, with 47 per cent of Australians able to name specific brands in this sector doing good. Actions around product and packaging were clearly driving memorability, with Woolworth’s first-mover decision to remove single-use plastic bags, Coles’ commitment to renewable energy and Cotton On’s participation in charity drives topping the list.

In complement to practical action, being on-product and in-store were the most powerful ways to convince local consumers of positive social and environment credentials. Against this, 86 per cent of respondents said they were sceptical about claims either social or environmental being made by brands.

The report also took a look into what consumers think brands should be doing against how they think brands are acting. The disconnect on issues was between 16 and 32 per cent depending on action. Most starkly, 87 per cent believe businesses should do something about pollution, yet only 57 per cent think they do right now. In addition, 89 per cent of consumers said businesses should be doing something about waste, but only 71 per cent believed they did.

Socially, discrimination, bullying and harassment was one of the biggest disconnects listed: 85 per cent of consumers think businesses should do something about this issue, but only 60 per cent think they do.

Republic of Everyone founder, Ben Peacock, said Who Do You Believe? shows that while Australians really care about social and environmental issues, they don’t believe brands are doing enough.

“They want action from businesses and brands and for them to put their money where their mouth is. But right now, three in four Australians can’t name a single brand they feel is leading in sustainability. This leaves the door wide open for companies to think big, do more and leap out as leaders,” he commented.

The Bravery founder, Claire Maloney, believed the findings showed a healthy scepticism from Australians on impact initiatives.

“This is somewhat understandable given the expectation businesses will manage their commercial interests first. But could also be linked to the rise of perceived greenwashing - this is when brands are rolling out smaller scale marketing campaigns 'for good', before there is tangible impact action actually in their business,” she said.

“But there are many businesses out there delivering tremendous gains for the environment and community, and it was encouraging in the research to see a sophisticated, high-level of understanding from Australians on what they thought 'good' action looked like.”

The report also showed a demographic disconnect remains, with Gen Z found to be the most likely to reward brands that act on social and environmental issues. Eighty-three per cent said it impacted their purchases, while 77 per cent said it informed their next place of work.

In comparison, boomers held the least concern: 72 per cent said it would impact their buying decisions and only 22 per cent their next place of employment. The report was based on a survey of 2040 Australians aged between 16 and 75.

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