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Sustainable brands: Who do you believe?

18 April 2022 at 2:51 pm
Wendy Williams
It has become commonplace for brands to champion their sustainability credentials. But do Australians actually believe what they are seeing and hearing? A new report suggests not.

Wendy Williams | 18 April 2022 at 2:51 pm


Sustainable brands: Who do you believe?
18 April 2022 at 2:51 pm

It has become commonplace for brands to champion their sustainability credentials. But do Australians actually believe what they are seeing and hearing? A new report suggests not.

Australians don’t believe brands are doing enough when it comes to social and environmental issues, according to a new report, which found nearly three out of four Aussies can’t name a single business they believe is leading in sustainability.

Who Do You Believe? – released by impact and communications agencies Republic of Everyone and The Bravery, with independent researchers Mobium Group – surveyed 2,040 Australians on which brands they believe are leading the sustainability revolution and why.

It found that actions from brands and businesses are failing to meet customer expectations – and even when brands do act, 86 per cent of Australians are sceptical about the social or environmental claims being made.

Claire Maloney, founder of The Bravery, told Pro Bono News the findings were quite significant as they showed that despite there being a tremendous number of businesses working across sustainability and social cause areas, it is not cutting through to consumers. 

“We’re seeing a very significant and historic moment in time when more than ever businesses understand the impact they have… and they also have a desire to have more of a positive impact,” Maloney said.

“But there is a disconnect happening between what those businesses are doing, how they are doing it, how they are communicating it, and therefore what consumers believe.”

But she said the scepticism Australians showed on impact initiatives was “quite healthy”.

“This is somewhat understandable given the expectation businesses will manage their commercial interests first. But could also be linked to the rise of perceived greenwashing – this is when brands are rolling out smaller scale marketing campaigns ‘for good’, before there is tangible impact action actually in their business,” Maloney said.

She said she was encouraged by the sophisticated, high-level of understanding shown by Australians on what they thought “good” action looked like.

The findings suggest that there is a big opportunity for brands to become leaders in the sustainability space.

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they considered a brand’s social and environmental impact when making a purchase, with a further 56 per cent considering a brand’s sustainability actions when choosing their future place of work.

Ben Peacock, founder of Republic of Everyone, said the study showed Australians wanted action from businesses and brands and for them to put their money where their mouth is. 

“But right now, three in four Australians can’t name a single brand they feel is leading in sustainability. This leaves the door wide open for companies to think big, do more and leap out as leaders,” Peacock said. 

“Australians need brands to be the change that will inspire and fire up others to step up and follow suit.” 

Maloney cautioned that there were also significant risks to businesses who ignored the findings.

“The biggest risk is that they won’t be a brand of the future. Simply put,” she said.

“The huge swathe of Australians that want to support brands that are taking action will no longer support you, and also, really staggeringly, people probably won’t want to work for you. 

“Stats show 77 per cent of Gen Z consider brand actions when choosing their next place of work, and 69 per cent of Gen Y consider it, that is a huge proportion of the Australian millennial population – which is now our largest population demographic and therefore our largest working demographic.”

But it isn’t all bad news. The report found some brands were considered to be leading the charge; with one in five of those who could name a brand, singling out Woolworths, one in 10 naming Coles, and one in 20 naming Cotton On.

Actions gaining attention include removing single-use plastic bags (Woolworths), commitment to renewable energy (Coles) and participating in charity drives (Cotton On).

The report also identified three common threads that set businesses apart as leaders in the eyes of Australian consumers: Focusing on making meaningful change before moving to marketing (“acts first, ads later”); putting forward ambitious goals that were of a significant nature (“think big”); and a sustained commitment (“repeat, repeat, repeat”).

Maloney said there was also an opportunity for charities and not for profits.

The report found that after product and packaging, measurable goals, and public pledges of action, the thing that made Australians believe a brand or business was helping, was donating to or partnering with causes or charities. 

“What this research gives the charity and NGO sector is an incredible proof point particularly for when it comes to any kind of partnerships that they are doing with businesses,” Maloney said.

“I think it outlines a really great pathway for NGOs, charities and other cause-related organisations to have richer, better, deeper conversations with corporations, businesses and brands.”

The report builds on The Power And The Passion report in 2021, which revealed top concerns of Australians on 20 major social and environmental issues by generation, gender and location. 

You can read the full report here.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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