Report: Environmental sustainability in demand, but consumers are confused by brand promises

New survey from Nature and The Lab shows more consumers will stop purchasing products and services from brands that aren't supporting environmental sustainability yet they're confused by what brands are saying

Eight out of 10 Australian consumers expect all businesses to be doing everything they can to support environmentally friendly practices and four in 10 say they’ll stop purchasing from brands that don’t.

According to a new piece of local research conducted by strategic consultancies, Nature and The Lab, and based on a survey of 2000 Australians, sustainability and environmental conscience is a hot topic right now with consumers. Yet the survey also illustrated both confusion and scepticism around the sustainability claims exhibited by businesses.

For example, 72 per cent of respondents said they don’t believe some brands are as environmentally friendly as they claim to be, up from 51 per cent on 2019 results. In addition, 56 per cent said they found the sustainability claims being made by organisations confusion, up from 34 per cent in 2019.

Overall, 63 per cent of respondents said they think highly of brands that are environmentally friendly, and 78 per cent think big brands should set an example on environmental sustainability, up from 58 per cent in 2019. More than seven in 10 (73 per cent) expect all businesses to be doing everything they can to be environmentally friendly.

In terms of action, 39 per cent of all respondents said they’ll stop using a business if it’s not acting sustainably, a figure that rose to 47 per cent across those aged under 30.  

The research also showed the demand for sustainable businesses is stretching across all manner of industry sectors. For instance, 63 per cent said they think about sustainability ‘a little or a lot’ when it comes to household products, 52 per cent when it comes to clothing, and 50 per cent when it comes to hair and beauty products.

To a lesser but still notable extent, 42 per cent said they also think about sustainability ‘a little or a lot’ when it comes to medications and pharmaceuticals, and 38 per cent agreed they do when considering cars and other vehicles. Other areas where sustainability is a consideration are electricity (36 per cent), phone services (30 per cent), gas (28 per cent), Internet service provider (26 per cent) and water (26 per cent).

“People are both increasingly demanding and confused. There is a clear onus on all businesses to be doing more for the environment, to be honest about what they are doing, and to communicate that to people in a clear and transparent way,” Nature consultant, Tabitha Kelly, commented.

“One of the biggest changes over the past three years is in the categories in which consumers expect brands to be leading the way. Three years ago, sustainability was limited to fast-moving consumers goods and packaging, whereas now we see this expectation extend into services like electricity and gas. Now it is top of mind for many people and it is affecting how they behave and where they spend their money.”

The survey’s release comes as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) begins a new Internet sweep in order to identify misleading environmental and sustainability marketing claims. The review has been prompted by increased consumer interest in buying more sustainable products and services.  

Nature partner and Melbourne managing director, Justin Connally, said businesses need to know how to properly communicate about sustainability with consumers.

“Companies need to clearly link their sustainability message to their brand to make a positive impact with consumers. Brands that aren’t already known in the sustainability space can still have an impact by using their packaging to communicate their sustainability claims and integrate it into their existing branding,” he advised.

“Consistent investment in sustainability messaging over a longer period of time pays dividends in the brand being perceived as a leader in sustainability. And it’s important to note that sustainability communications can be done in an upbeat way, but the message needs to be future-focused, believable and positive.”

The Lab co-founder, Paul Labagnara, saw the research as a sign people are getting more impatient with brands to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

“Even the less tangible service brands are being called into action as people’s awareness of how all businesses can contribute to a more sustainable future increases,” he said.

“When a brand demonstrates clear action toward a more sustainable future, it helps alleviate the environmental ‘cost’ for people and increases its value, driving more people to choose it over another,” The Lab Melbourne Behavioural Science Lead, Chris O’Keefe, added. “This is becoming more imperative to maintain consumer spend against the backdrop of the increased cost of living.”

Nature and The Lab’s research was conducted in late June 2022 and covered 2299 people across Australia.

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page




Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

More Videos

More Brand Posts

Blog Posts

Marketing prowess versus the enigma of the metaverse

Flash back to the classic film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Television-obsessed Mike insists on becoming the first person to be ‘sent by Wonkavision’, dematerialising on one end, pixel by pixel, and materialising in another space. His cinematic dreams are realised thanks to rash decisions as he is shrunken down to fit the digital universe, followed by a trip to the taffy puller to return to normal size.

Liz Miller

VP, Constellation Research

Why Excellent Leadership Begins with Vertical Growth

Why is it there is no shortage of leadership development materials, yet outstanding leadership is so rare? Despite having access to so many leadership principles, tools, systems and processes, why is it so hard to develop and improve as a leader?

Michael Bunting

Author, leadership expert

More than money talks in sports sponsorship

As a nation united by sport, brands are beginning to learn money alone won’t talk without aligned values and action. If recent events with major leagues and their players have shown us anything, it’s the next generation of athletes are standing by what they believe in – and they won’t let their values be superseded by money.

Simone Waugh

Managing Director, Publicis Queensland

Sign in