Four in five Britons want brands to take ‘active’ steps towards sustainability

YouGov: Research into importance for brands to minimise environmental impact (Photo: Getty Images)
YouGov: Research into importance for brands to minimise environmental impact (Photo: Getty Images)

Majority of those surveyed said it is important to reduce plastic and use renewable energy.

The majority of Britons want brands to actively take steps to minimise their impact on the environment, new research has revealed.

A total of 86% of British people said it is “important” (59% “very” and 27% “fairly”) for brands or businesses to take action, according to a YouGov survey conducted exclusively for Campaign, which included views from 2020 Britons.

The survey, which polled more than 19,000 people across 17 countries, found that people in the UK are more likely to demand change from brands than their US counterparts, who returned the lowest proportion agreeing it was important, at 69% 

Cutting the use of plastic was the most popular way Brits believed damage to the environment could be reduced (92% said it was “important”), followed by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy (84%). Only about half said cutting meat consumption was key, while just under three-quarters cited taking fewer flights as being critical. 

Advertising industry leaders said it was important for brands to show evidence of how they are making changes – but to avoid creating “eco-anxiety” for consumers who may feel under pressure to change their own habits.

The survey gathered the views of people in continental Europe, Asia and Australia between the 18 October and 7 November. It asked how important it is for brands to actively take steps towards sustainability and the most critical ways to become more green. 

The top two actions for all regions were reducing plastic (chosen by 89%) and replacing fossil fuels (82%).

Unilever UK & Ireland’s executive vice-president and general manager, Sebastian Munden, said: “We know that shoppers are looking for reassurance – and evidence – that the small sustainable choices they make can have an impact.

“Plastic remains a major concern for consumers, and at Unilever we’re completely rethinking its role in our business.”

Munden added that the firm has halved its use of virgin plastic and now ensures all packaging is “recyclable, reusable or compostable”.

Other measures that are high on the list for the public in becoming more green included repairing and reusing items such as clothing and electronics. Nearly nine in 10 Britons (87%) – and the majority of people in all regions – believed this was an important factor in reducing carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Britons believed taking fewer flights was important for sustainability, whereas just half of US and Hong Kong respondents (51% each) agreed.

John Brown, CEO and founder of PR agency Don’t Cry Wolf, said brands needed to show consumers the real changes they were putting in place rather than “saying that in some dystopian future, we are going to be net carbon zero”.

He said: “It is really important that brands reduce their carbon footprint, for the sake of all sorts of reasons, but announcing that now is too late.

“I care about them [brands] showing the roadmap, they have to start moving in towards this territory. It is no longer about saying that in some dystopian future, we are going to be net carbon zero, they have to now start saying this is the path that we're on.”

Brown added: “I think the greatest challenge is how you convey a sense of optimism and how you can talk about improvement, steps and the fact that you're part of the journey – without causing eco-anxiety or without piling more pressure onto the shoulders of your customers.”

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