How brands can show a sustainability commitment in 2023

14 04 2023

Implementing sustainable practices is no easy feat and often takes years. But brands must understand consumer priorities and show a commitment, no matter how formidable the challenge. From Ipsos • Reposted: April 14, 2023


  • Consumers, more than ever, are pushing brands to become more sustainable, Ipsos research finds
  • 38% of Americans say manufacturers and retailers should be responsible for reducing unnecessary packaging
  • More brands than ever feel pressure to show their sustainability agenda—but being a sustainable brand has different meanings to different consumers

This passage has been adapted from Emmanuel Probst’s new book “Assemblage: The Art and Science of Brand Transformation” (Ideapress Publishing, 2023).

Numerous brands in 2023 aim to show they are implementing sustainable practices in response to consumer concerns about the environment and climate change—but are often unsure where to start. Ipsos research on sustainability provides a guide for companies on key questions to ask themselves as they look to implement sustainable goals.

  1. How does my audience perceive my brand in terms of its sustainable and environmentally responsible practices?
  2. How prevalent is sustainability in the context of my specific markets, product categories, and competitor brands?
  3. What can I implement almost immediately that will improve the perception of my brand as it pertains to sustainability?

Consumers are awash in products

Consumer spending in the United States hit an all-time high of $13.3 trillion in the third quarter of 2019, up from $10.5 trillion in 2010 and $8.2 trillion in 2000. They are spending more than ever on personal care items, consumer electronics, and clothes. The average American buys 66 garments a year.

Consuming has become easier, as shoppers no longer have to comply with restrictive store hours. Goods have become cheaper, even when they must be shipped halfway around the globe. Consumers also dispose of the products they buy faster than ever when they reach programmed obsolescence or simply because they get bored with them.

Most of these products end up in landfills; the average American disposes of 4.4 pounds of trash every day, which translates into 728,000 tons of daily garbage, or 63,000 garbage trucks full. Every year, Americans throw away 9 million tons of furniture, 9.4 million tons of consumer electronics, and 14 million tons of clothing (double the 7 million tons tossed 20 years ago).

For many Americans, sustainability is becoming a priority in the face of relentless consumption, with surveys showing a desire to pivot toward more meaningful and responsible consumption choices.

Who should be responsible for combating the climate crisis?

Ipsos Global Trends 2023 shows that 80% of people in 50 markets around the world believe the planet is heading for an environmental disaster unless consumers change our habits quickly, yet only 39% believe their country has a clear plan in place for how people, government, and businesses are going to unify to tackle climate change, according to an Ipsos poll of 30 countries from 2022.

People feel the burden of responsibility. In a global survey from Ipsos, 72% agreed that if ordinary people do not act now to combat climate change, they will be failing future generations and 68 percent said that if companies do not act to combat climate change, they are failing their employees and customers. Globally, 65% believe that if their government does not combat climate change it is failing citizens.

These concerns are prompting brands to become more sustainable. When asked, “Who should be responsible for finding a way to reduce unnecessary packaging?” 40% of people surveyed said everyone, 38% said manufacturers and retailers, and only 3% said consumers alone. Product packaging is something that brands (not consumers) own and control, yet consumers influence business decisions by which brand they buy, based on its environmental impact.

And when it comes to implementing sustainable practices, organizations must also be conscious of public perception and overpromising—especially when there may be aspects outside their control. A major international airport, for example, recently committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. However, the pledge only reflects the airport’s infrastructure. There is a danger that, in the public’s view, the commitment should also include the emissions from the 1,300 flights that take off or land there every day. Doing the right thing on sustainability, while also managing public perceptions, is not an easy balance to get right.

What consumers believe contrasts with how they shop

Brands also face a tricky factor in consumer behavior itself. While many people claim to be concerned with the environment, their efforts to live in a more environmentally friendly way often fall short and they default on easier actions.

An Ipsos study revealed that almost 90% worldwide are confident in recycling and using low-energy lightbulbs. Conversely, only 55% would consider switching to a mostly plant-based diet, and 59% would avoid driving a car and long-distance air travel.

When it comes to shopping, Ipsos Essentials data shows that globally, just over half of citizens consider themselves to be ethical or sustainable shoppers. In the U.S., only 24% of shoppers see sustainability as a crucial factor when making a purchase, compared to 53% who say the same for affordability and 71% for quality.

Shoppers also differ on their sustainability priorities depending on the product. In baby and toddler products, for example, an Ipsos study showed that sustainability was not a top priority. Parents favored diaper brands that make a safe product for their baby (70%) and fit their baby well (60%). In contrast, only 22% care that the brand is environmentally responsible, declining by three percentage points over the last year.

How some brands are responding

As sustainability is becoming a topic of growing interest, brands feel obliged to talk to their sustainability agenda and show their actions through initiatives and commitments to various time frames. Many brands aim to eventually become carbon neutral (offsetting one’s emissions by planting trees), including:

  • Netflix by 2022
  • Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook by 2030
  • Amazon by 2040
  • Coca-Cola and Nestlé by 2050
  • Starbucks aims to become “resource positive” by 2030, which it defines as reducing carbon emissions, water withdrawal, and waste by 50% while expanding plant-based menu options, shifting to reusable packaging and investing in regenerative agricultural practices.

Brands rely on a range of terms to describe their sustainability initiatives, including but not limited to “carbon zero” (Hytch, a commuting app), “zero-carbon” (Zero Carbon Coffee), “climate positive” (Max Burgers), and even “air-made” (the carbonneutral alcohol brand Air Vodka).

Being a “sustainable brand” has different meanings to different consumers

Some brands are purposefully built around sustainability. “Oatly was born sustainable. Its very existence is the manifestation of their mission. Specifically, to help support ‘a systemic shift toward a sustainable, resilient food system’… to ensure the future of the planet for generations to come.”

Some brands have a purpose that aligns with sustainability

Although denim is notorious for requiring large quantities of water to create jeans, Levi’s new collection, Water<Less uses 96 percent less water. Levi’s implements sustainable practices through its entire design and manufacturing process and is working to source cotton that is 100 percent sustainable.

Some brands must shift to sustainability

Volkswagen’s mission is to power a grand switchover to electric vehicles and has enshrined the mission in VW’s new tagline, “Way to Zero.” They aim for total carbon neutrality by 2050, with the hope of creating a sustainable production process from design concept to showroom.

Implementing sustainable practices is no easy feat and often takes years. But brands, especially in 2023, must understand consumer priorities and show a commitment, no matter how formidable the challenge.

To see the original post, follow this link:




One response

24 04 2023

This is a great and informative post about the importance of sustainability in branding! It’s interesting to see that while sustainability is a growing concern for consumers, their actions often don’t fully align with their beliefs. My question to the author is: In your experience, what are some effective ways for brands to bridge this gap and encourage consumers to make more sustainable choices?
Emily Oliver

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: