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People Aren’t Saving the Planet. Corporations Are.

Image credit: Tom Sodoge

It’s official. Sustainability is mainstream.

You probably already knew that. What you may not know is that Americans aren’t really changing their personal behaviors. They’re changing their buying behaviors. And that gives brands a new way to win in the marketplace.

Here’s what we’re seeing in our ongoing polling of Americans to understand their attitudes and behaviors related to the environment:

One of our most recent surveys finds that 88 percent of Americans believe the average person should be taking concrete steps to reduce environmental impact, and nearly 80 percent feel a sense of personal responsibility to change daily purchase habits and practices to positively impact the environment.

Yet that concern about sustainability doesn’t necessarily translate into concrete action. The survey reveals that over 60 percent of Americans will most often choose personal comfort or convenience over the environment (which may explain why the national recycling rate is only 35 percent).

Suzanne Shelton
will discuss
The Good Life
Through the Lens of
Consumer Preferences:
Aspiration vs. Reality

SB'18 Vancouver

Our hypothesis: As awareness of environmental problems increases, people feel unequipped to solve those problems, believing the problems are too big and scary. Consumers are left feeling helpless, like actions on their part to help the environment don’t really make a difference. But they know that if they and 100,000 of their closest friends on social media all send Corporate America a message where it matters – their finances – they can make a difference.

And that’s how it’s playing out:

  • 59 percent of millennials look to companies to solve social and environmental problems they feel they can’t address (or would rather not have to).
  • 64 percent of Americans say a company's environmental reputation impacts their purchase decisions.
  • 60 percent of Americans say corporate social responsibility activities positively impact their purchase intent.
  • Nearly one-fifth of Americans can now name a brand they’ve purchased – or not purchased – because of the environmental record of the manufacturer.
  • 45 percent of Americans wish to be seen as someone who buys eco-friendly products, a percentage that has grown steadily over the last six years.

In other words, when corporations and brands commit meaningfully to helping the environment, they take visible actions against that commitment, and they tell their stories in emotionally compelling ways, they have a very real opportunity to build brand loyalty and sell more products.

It’s an opportunity companies are increasingly taking to heart. Last month, Apple announced that all of its global facilities are now powered by 100 percent clean energy; outdoor retailer REI unveiled broad sustainability standards for its suppliers; and Chipotle announced a goal of diverting half of all its food waste from landfills by 2020. As companies remake themselves into role models by setting sustainability goals, Americans are primed to reward them with their loyalty.

In the past, cultural shifts depended in large part on economic incentives and government regulations. But this new data reveals that there’s a huge opportunity for businesses to lead on sustainability. Will your company be one of those?

Suzanne Shelton is CEO of Shelton Group, the nation’s leading marketing communications firm entirely focused in the sustainability and energy efficiency sectors. The company polls Americans on an ongoing basis to understand their drivers and obstacles to adopting more sustainable… [Read more about Suzanne Shelton]

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