A new international study by cosmetics giant, Unilever, has revealed that a third of consumers are now buying from brands based on their social and environmental impact.
The study asked 20,000 people from the UK, US, India, Brazil and Turkey how their sustainability concerns impact their brand choices.
Crucially, it mapped their claims against real purchase decisions, giving a more accurate picture than past studies.
More than one in five of those surveyed said they would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and their marketing.
This represents an untapped opportunity of €966 billion out of the estimated €2.5 trillion global market for sustainable goods.
33 per cent of the respondents said they would purchase a product because they believe it is benefitting society and the environment.
Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, said: “This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, it has become an imperative.”
The findings are backed up by Unilever’s own experience. Of its hundreds of brands, those that have integrated sustainability into their purposes and products delivered nearly half the company’s global growth in 2015.
These ‘Sustainable Living Brands’ are also growing 30 per cent faster than the rest of the business.
Notably, while 58 per cent of consumers in the UK and 78 per cent in the US say they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced, the number rises to 88 per cent in India and 85 per cent in Brazil and Turkey.
The study therefore suggests that the trend for choosing more sustainable brands is stronger in emerging economies than in developed countries.
According to Unilever, this may be due to more exposure to the negative impacts of unsustainable business practices in these countries, such as water and energy shortages, food poverty and poor air quality.
Brazilian, Indian and Turkish may therefore feel more pressure from their family and friends to buy greener, more socially responsible products.
“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”, Weed added.
“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.”
Framework for success
Unilever puts its success down to a simple framework, encompassing high environmental and social performance.
This includes a focus on ‘eco-production’ - lowering costs by cutting waste and reducing its use of energy, raw materials and natural resources. This has saved the company over €600 million since 2008.
It also sees sustainable methods of doing business as a way to mitigate risk and future-proof its supply chain against climate change and volatile resource prices.
By placing sustainability at the heart of its business model, Unilever believes that it strengthens its relationship with stakeholders and employees, helping it become a leading employer of choice for graduates.