PMG Digital Made for Humans

The Growing Importance of Sustainability Among Brands & Consumers

April 7, 2022 | 6 min read

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

A sense of urgency for more sustainable products and business practices is formalizing across the world stage, a trend driven in part by the phased release of industry-transforming climate science research conducted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Tasked to produce a comprehensive overview of climate science every six to eight years, the IPCC has been rather busy in recent months, publishing the first and second reports in August 2021 and February 2022, respectively.

With the third installment published this week, business leaders across sectors are reassessing the ways their businesses can respond to increasing calls for corporate social responsibility and be a force for positive change. 

The first IPCC report of the series, released in August 2021, analyzed the causes of climate change, the second, published in February 2022, outlined the effects of climate change and the global community’s ability to adapt to them, while the third, published this week, shared insight into the various ways carbon emissions could be cut and further warming could be limited

The majority of the third report detailed technical and scientific research on the pathways to a warmer planet and mitigation efforts, though one takeaway centered on the importance of consumer behavior in reducing demand and, thus, carbon emissions.

In a written statement, IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyardarshi Shukla said, “Having the right policies, infrastructure, and technology in place to enable changes in our lifestyle and behavior can result in a 40 to 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The evidence shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and well-being.”

Zero-carbon buildings, infrastructural changes across cities, and socio-cultural factors to encourage behavioral changes at the consumer level were all considerations outlined in the report as powerful forces for curbing carbon emissions. 

Having the right policies, infrastructure, and technology in place to enable changes in our lifestyle and behavior can result in a 40 to 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Consumer demand for sustainability is omnipresent, with calls for corporate and government action growing louder. In an insights report published earlier this year, Meta found that consumers are looking to connect with brands that “reflect their beliefs,” and they “are willing to pay a premium for eco-friendly or sustainable products.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, purpose-driven messaging and products have become more important, with research finding that customers are increasingly engaging with brands that “post content about their sustainability efforts.” In fact, Meta found that millennials are 1.3X more likely to care about sustainability than older generations, though the generational gap is closing. Online, sustainability measures like carbon neutrality are becoming a larger part of the cultural conversation, with interest peaking in 2021.

Facebook Carbon Neutrality conversation stats

Recent data shows travelers are willing to pay a premium to travel brands that prioritize sustainability and employ environmentally friendly practices to offset carbon emissions. Booking’s latest Sustainability Report found that 73 percent of travelers would be more likely to choose an accommodation if it has implemented sustainability practices. 

Travel brands have responded to these demands in earnest, with leading hotel brands implementing extensive CSR initiatives and environmental sustainability goals. Hotel conglomerate Hilton, for example, aims to source produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and cotton from sustainable suppliers by 2030, among other goals, while Omni Hotels & Resorts is working in close partnership with local communities to source goods locally in addition to a host of environmental stewardship initiatives.

European airlines are already making hefty investments in renewing their fleets with more fuel-efficient aircraft, like Air France-KLM committing to updating the KLM and Transavia fleets with more eco-friendly Airbus planes, according to The Skift

Recent data shows travelers are willing to pay a premium to travel brands that prioritize sustainability and employ environmentally friendly practices to offset carbon emissions.

While brands pursue sustainability goals, various state legislatures and federal agencies are working in parallel, pursuing legislation and other measures to extend producer responsibility obligations. In January, New York state legislators unveiled the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, otherwise known as the Fashion Act, in an attempt to make New York “the first state in the U.S. to hold fashion brands accountable” for the impact of their supply chain on the environment, in addition to other corporate social responsibility issues like fair wages, carbon emissions, and product life cycles.

In the European Union, an extensive sustainable textile strategy was recently announced that aims to regulate the environmental impact of the fashion industry by “encouraging circularity, cracking down on greenwashing, and creating more accountability for textile waste.”

As corporate action falls under greater scrutiny by customers, regulators, and watchdog groups, marketers are tasked with assessing climate risk and the impact of their work on the progress being made in curbing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change.

In partnership with global regulators, brand leaders, and advertising agencies, this week, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) published updated guidance for marketers to help with these challenges. Adweek reports that some brands and agencies have been guilty of “greenwashing ideas” with misinformation that hides the “carbon-heavy truth” of some business practices, making the work of WFA even more relevant to the industry.

With six recommended principles, WFA’s Global Guidance on Environmental Claims aims to support marketers in ensuring their marketing communications around sustainability remain credible and are not misinterpreted as greenwashing. According to WFA, the trade group commissioned the International Council for Advertising Self-Regulation (ICAS) and the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), and the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), with support from environmental experts to pull the recommendations together. 

Some of the guiding environmental principles set forth by the WFA include: 

  • Environmental claims must not be likely to mislead, and the basis for them must be clear.

  • Robust evidence must be available for all claims likely to be regarded as objective and capable of substantiation.

  • General environmental claims must be made on the full lifecycle of a product or business unless the marketing communications state otherwise and more.

Awareness of environmental issues is increasing, and as people continuously look to corporations to take a stand on critical social issues, brands will continue to be challenged to address consumer expectations and take an active role in adopting eco-friendly practices and promoting sustainability in their marketing communications.

With the latest report by the IPCC calling for more aggressive carbon emissions reductions and collective global action, sustainable practices are expected to remain a core consideration for consumers, marketers, and business leaders.