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New Nielsen Study Says Consumers Are Ready to Pay More for Social Responsibility

52 percent of global respondents said that they check product packaging for ecolabels, such as this certification by the Marine Stewardship Council, to ensure that the brand is committed to positive social and environmental impact. | Image credit: World Fishing & Aquaculture

Nielsen’s 2014 Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, released Tuesday, shows that 55 percent of global online consumers across 60 countries are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.

The Asia-Pacific region leads with 64 percent followed by Latin America (63 percent) and Middle East/Africa (63 percent) while North America and Europe come in at 42 and 40 percent, respectively.

“Consumers around the world are saying loud and clear that a brand’s social purpose is among the factors that influence purchase decisions,” said Amy Fenton, global leader of public development and sustainability at Nielsen. “This behavior is on the rise and it provides opportunities for meaningful impact in our communities, in addition to helping to grow share for brands.”

The survey polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries to understand how heavily consumers considered companies’ sustainable practices when making purchase decisions; which consumer segments are most supportive of ecological or other socially responsible efforts; and which social issues/causes are attracting the most concern.

Key findings include:

  • Globally, more than half (52 percent) of respondents said they have purchased at least one product or service in the past six months from a socially responsible company. Four in 10 respondents in North America and Europe said that they have made a sustainable purchase in the past six months.
  • 52 percent of global respondents said that their purchase decisions partly depended on packaging — i.e. they check labeling to ensure that the brand is committed to positive social and environmental impact. This impacted decisions to a lesser degree in North America (32 percent) and Europe (36 percent).

Nielsen also reviewed retail sales data for a cross-section of consumable and non-consumable categories across 20 brands in nine countries. These brands either included sustainability claims on packaging or actively promoted their sustainability actions through marketing.

  • A March 2014 year-over-year analysis showed an average annual sales increase of 2 percent for products with sustainability claims on the packaging and 5 percent for products that promoted sustainability actions through marketing programs. A review of 14 other brands without sustainability claims or marketing shows a sales rise of only 1 percent.

The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a Nielsen strategic business collaborator, conducted an online study across 9 countries on how global attitudes and behaviors about sustainability engagement are changing. Consumers were clustered into five segments to quantify what attracts them to sustainability actions. The study found that:

  • Two-thirds of the 'sustainable mainstream' population (3 of 5 segments) will choose products from sustainable sources over conventional products. These consumers have personally changed their behavior to minimize their impact on global climate change; will buy as many eco-friendly products as they can and will buy repeatedly from a company if they know that it is mindful of its environmental and social impact.
  • Millennials (age 21-34) constitute 51 percent of global respondents who will pay more for sustainable products and check packaging for sustainable labeling. Regionally in the developing world (Asia-Pacific, Middle East/Africa), there were wide gaps with millennial respondents in favor of sustainability actions on average three times more agreeable to sustainability actions than Generation X (age 35-49) respondents and 12 times more agreeable than Baby Boomer (age 50-64) respondents.

“It’s no longer a question if consumers care about social impact. Consumers do care and show they do through their actions. Now the focus is on determining how your brand can effectively create shared value by marrying the appropriate social cause and consumer segments,” said Fenton.

Nielsen’s newest findings are in sync with last year's results, which had shown that 50 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for goods and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society. They also align with recent findings from Cone — which found that 77 percent of Americans say sustainability factors into their food-purchasing decisions — and a recent Pew report about millennials being the most sustainability-conscious generation.


Aarthi is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands. She has nearly a decade of experience in creating and managing content across diverse media (web, video and print) for nonprofits and media houses in the US and India. Aarthi holds a… [Read more about Aarthi Rayapura]