The report, From Marketing to Mattering, is based on a survey of 30,000 consumers in 20 countries. The study was commissioned in response and as a companion to the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, published in 2013, in which two thirds of CEOs admitted that business is not doing enough to address sustainability challenges, similar to the 73 percent of consumers in the latest research that say businesses are failing to take care of the planet and society.
The two studies reveal that, although CEOs see engagement with consumers as the most important single factor motivating them to accelerate progress on sustainability, they are often out of step with what motivates consumers to buy sustainable products and services. Eighty-one percent of CEOs believe that their company’s reputation for sustainability is important to consumers, but the new research shows that less than one-quarter (23 percent) of consumers report that they regularly seek information on the sustainability performance of the brands whose products they purchase.
As result of the disconnect on the importance of a company’s sustainable reputation, only 32 percent of consumers say they “often” or “always” consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions. However, the study reveals opportunities for companies to close the gap and engage consumers by approaching sustainability as an opportunity to bring tangible impacts to consumers’ quality of life.
The study suggests three areas of action that will help companies engage more effectively with consumers:
- Companies must promote a commitment to honesty and transparency throughout their organization’s operations in order to realize their full value. Trust is critical: corruption is seen as the leading challenge for countries to address, ahead of job creation and economic growth, and ending corruption is seen as a top five challenge for businesses. Companies must be able to hold themselves accountable to consumers who are armed with greater access to information and social media tools that help them expose disingenuous corporate behavior.
- Companies must meet expectations for responsible business practices while delivering tangible improvements to consumers’ lives. This is particularly so in mature markets, where consumers increasingly consider sustainable corporate credentials as a given.
- Companies must shift their communication with consumers from a focus on their sustainable credentials and corporate performance to a clearer demonstration of their purpose and relevance to the society and the environment. This is especially relevant in emerging markets where companies are seen as playing a major role in improving health, education and other fundamental quality of life factors.