Sustainability Now: How Americans Expect Brands to Step Up

Revisit our on demand webinar to hear exclusive, consumer-centered data that will guide brands to make better decisions about sustainability-focused marketing, communications, and innovation efforts leading into 2023.

The author(s)
  • Danielle Edwards EVP, Ipsos Online Communities, NA
  • Henry Solorzano Vice President, US, Ipsos Online Communities
  • Brittany Calvert VP, Ipsos Innovation
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Ipsos research shows more than 2 in 3 people globally are concerned about the impacts of climate change. While the U.S. takes action through significant climate investments and updated green marketing guidelines, numerous companies in 2022 alone have also made promises to become carbon-neutral within a decade. Now more than ever, it’s critical for brands to understand how consumers are likely to interpret these promises and claims to convey their commitment effectively and authentically.

There is no average consumer when it comes to sustainability

Listen in as we share exclusive, consumer-centered data from our syndicated U.S. online community that will guide brands to make better decisions about sustainability-focused marketing, communications, and innovation efforts leading into 2023, including:

  • A look at the top sustainability-related topics, themes, and drivers emerging in online community conversations, and how these are impacting overall lifestyle habits and everyday purchasing decisions at shelf.
  • How and where consumers go about determining whether a brand meets their definition of “green” or “environmentally friendly,” and whether the hurdles are the same for the products they are purchasing.
  • What role consumers are expecting brands and retailers to play as climate change continues to dominate headlines, including strategic recommendations for marketing, communications, and innovation opportunities as we move into the new year.

Today’s AI-generated audio transcript is offered below. Apologies in advance for inconsistencies that have been included.


Thank you for joining us for today's Ipsos Webinar featuring conversations on Ipsos' online communities about sustainability and tips for how brands can step up.


Today's Webinar is being presented by Ipsos research experts from our online communities and our Innovation Teams and you can read more about them on the site in front of you.


Throughout today's session you will remain in listen only mode, however throughout the Webinar, you may submit questions online using the Q and A feature.


Time permitting We'll answer your questions at the end of today's session.


However, if time runs short than your question will be answered by e-mail.


I also encourage you to check out the handouts we've uploaded into the control panel.


Today's Webinar is being recorded and will also be directly e-mailed to you.


So now without further ado it is my pleasure to welcome today's first speaker Danielle Edward's Executive Vice President of Ipsos Online Communities. Danielle, you have the floor.


Thank you Elen, and thank you everyone for joining today. I'm excited to share a little information about the rich insights that we found coming out of ours, ipso syndicated Community Fresh Lab.


So just before we dive into the results a little bit about communities at Ipsos. so Fresh Lab as our syndicated community, we have about 7000 members and their profiles on several different demographics, including, you know, where they shop cars. They drive products, they purchase, and then, obviously, all of the standard information around children in the home and household income. But, members are engaged. They're ready to participate in a variety of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including live chat surveys and in-depth qual.


It's a very agile and affordable tool when you want to connect with consumers on a variety of different topics.


And then, next slide, please.


So, for this research, our goal was really understanding how brands can make better decisions around sustainability. So, to get at that, we did both quantitative and qualitative research. So, for the qualitative, we asked members to imagine some of their favorite brands as guests at a dinner party, that was sustainability themes. So we asked them questions around who would they invite and why, you know, what would you want to discuss with this brand?


So we really generated some really deep, Rich ..., and then we also had a quantitative survey as well. So we had about 982 members participate over a span of a week in early October.


So next slide.


And so then like I mentioned, we had a lot of really rich verbatim and quantitative data coming out of this research. So the team for the next remainder of the webinar will take you through four key areas that we really dove into unexplored. So first, you know, what is the consumer's definition of sustainability? What does that really mean to them? And then, you know, why it's important to them, where brands need to focus, and then, finally, how to communicate, you know, their efforts in the space. So, all of that kind of really tying and at the end, determining, you know, the most important strategy, how to execute, and what messaging is really important to consumers around the area of sustainability. So now I will go ahead and Hendra off to Henry who will go through some of the qualitative results.


Cool, thank you, Danielle.


So a good place to start when it comes to sustainability, Understanding what this really means to consumers.


It's a word that you see here a lot of conversations and it sort of becomes this nebulous topic And before sort of taking action to kind of understand what consumers view is when it comes to sustainability. And really that will help sort of guide action on that topic.


So, we had conversations with our members and really sort of understanding what, how they define sustainability? What was interesting is that, how they viewed it, really sort of focused on different aspects of a product's life cycle, so it kinda connects where it's sourced from, what, you know, the product, the materials that are used, how it's processed. How long it will last? Is this product for something that I'm gonna have one use thing, Is it going to be something that I can use multiple times?


Then how can it be re-use? And this is a bit different than sort of usage is really more about repurposing, you know, is this something that after it's sort of outlived its life cycle, or outliers lived it specific use can be repurposed for something else. So that way they're not disposing of it fairly quickly.


Then finally, what can they do? What can they do with the product? After the, it's outlived its usefulness. How do they sort of understand clearly in regards recycling and disposing of the product?


So, they really should understand in this case, where where this product sort of exists in this process and really knowing at each stage of the process, what is how is it sustainable?


We actually pulled out a really great quote from one of our fresh lab members. It's kind of a clear indication of just that entire thing. And in essence they said you know all the ingredients should be natural and organically raised the way our Earth is not poisoned by chemicals. Everything should be compostable, re-usable, or recyclable.


Sustainable. It to me is much more than being responsible. When it comes to recycling, it's more, it's working hand in hand with the earth, we are on. Never irreparably damaging it in any way and everything is made able to go back into to generate more good use. And this is really good, sort of descriptor of how folks are seeing that. It's not just recycling. It goes way beyond that. And the entire process of the product.


So, we get a sense of what, it's how we sort of define it. But then, in the normal consumer shopping experience, how really important it is. For the most part, consumers view sustainability as having some importance when they're shopping for products.


But when you sort of compare it to everything else, it falls a little bit towards the end in being extremely important, where, in relation things, such as paying a high price, and something being available. And we'll talk about a little bit more later, how that plays out in relation to each other, But broad speaking, folks find it important, but there's just, there's certain things to them. And especially in this climate, that are much more important to them when they're purchasing products.


But not everyone sees it equally and, similarly, taking a look at the demographics of folks who participate in the study, they, the younger audiences tend to see sustainability much more important than older consumers. So they're really seeing that in difference for them. And we'll talk a little bit more later on sort of where the threshold lives for them when it comes to that aspect, especially when it comes to trade offs.


But not everyone thought to say that sustainability is important, so we sort of ... a bit more among our members and really just trying to figure out why isn't sustainability important to them? and really sort of fell into five different buckets. The first aspect is just they have no control.


They see themselves as one individual.


They don't feel as something that just because, you know, people talk about sustainability, that they don't have a direct impact, As you noted, saw earlier, price and availability are much more important to them. So those factors really just are driving their decision making when shopping and not something that's sustainable.


And they also have sort of habits and products that they already purchased. So trying to see, you know, try seeing the idea of buying a different product because it's sustainable is not really something that's interest to them, the rather have sort of keep the products that they can't purchase and really not really deviate beyond that.


Also, it comes to the baggage that comes with it. It will. We'll note later that, you know, when folks are think about sustainability, price kind of connects with it, and the concern is that if you make something sustainable that the product has to be much more expensive. So, they really, there's that sort of baggage that comes with it that there might be some opportunity sorted.


Disconnect those two. So that folks would be much more interested in it.


And lastly, as we see when we looked at the people, how people define sustainability, it's all over the place into different product life cycle that for them it's really unclear and mean. So for some unclear and meaningless definition, some folks have mentioned that is sort of connection to the idea of going green. Like what does that really mean to me? So there's opportunity here to sort of communicate that to shoppers when it comes specifically for your brands on what sustainability is for you, and that way, you can own that aspect and really connect with consumers in that, right.


So, with this broad foundation of how consumers use sustainability, which, again, touches upon different aspects of a product life cycle, we want to see really then, how it comes into action for consumers.


At the first step, really, just ask first, you know, When it comes to sustainability, who really is responsible? Is it the brands? Is individuals? And for the most part, more than half folks tend to associate brands being responsible in that space. It's not overwhelming, and we'll see a little bit later that there's sort of a connection, a tug of war in that aspect, but at least there's some, in basically a little bit more, than half, sort of see that the brands have some responsibility in the different areas.


So, as I mentioned earlier, the feeling of responsibility sort of creates a tension between brand and personal brand and individual responsibility.


For folks that see that brands are more responsible for the sustainability, the reasons they say is that, you know, they have control the production product life cycle, whether from sourcing, production, selling, and so on, and marketing. And the consumers need to see the choices available. So they actually can purchase the products that are sustainable. They feel like they, they don't see the options, They're not going to purchase them, So they want to see that.


And for them, they see brands as having the money and resources to actually make that change.


But not everyone feels that way. For some consumers, they actually feel that they have the power to do that. And for them, they should be creating that demand for for, to have products that are sustainable. So, telling brands that we want that and they would basically would do with their financial power, so with their products. So they're gonna pick, maybe, niche products that are sustainable, but eventually we sort of, you know, cascade and cause away for larger brands to be participating in this.


And also, they just feel that, you know, individuals really should be more educated before they start purchasing sustainable products, so they can know what that really means to them.


But being sustainable really is, can't, can't really exist in a vacuum. There are some changes that will need to be made, to have products be sustainable, And for our members, they're really sort of a range of where things can happen, things to be sustainable.


Because of ownership of consumers, consumers have some subtle trade offs. So for example, packaging and ingredients really are fine when it comes to that.


That's really sorta OK.


Acceptability just starts to wane though when it impacts on variety and things like just sizes and styles.


But then it becomes much more prohibitive when it impacts on overall availability and even pricing.


So this is likely something that's, you know, definitely much more impactful because of inflation, let's say. But really, these are sort of the things that folks don't really want to have impacted when they see products as being sustainable.


However, not everyone feels directly that way.


When we sort of parse out the data among our members, younger audiences are much more open to have products. You know, maybe less availability, or being late. Or things with higher prices.


If it means that the products can be sustainable, it's not as strong as you see as you get older, but overall, younger audiences tend to be that way.


Which does give some ideas on products that may be, you know, marketed as being sustainable, so that you're not really changing your entire suite of offerings, but maybe things that are much more targeted toward younger audiences, who may be more acceptable to them.


We did have a small group of audience member of folks who said that they were not really interested in a particular trade offs. And the biggest drivers are really just that they don't want to see any compromises or anything that's really impacting them.


They feel that brands who are choosing to be sustainable really should basically take the brunt of the impact because it's something that they ship they're responsible for and really should not really should pass on or sort of you know, dilute or, sorry, trickle down any of the impact on them.


And that really connects to some of the things that we had seen earlier about pricing and availability being sort of impact that that's not something that they want to see.


And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Brittany who's gonna talk a bit more about the product perspective.


Awesome, thanks Henry. So as we've kind of demonstrated, there is no one single opinion when it comes to environmental sustainability, right? And to help break this down further, Ipsos has conducted a proprietary global segmentation of over about 10000 people addressing themes related to beliefs and attitudes towards the environment and climate change, their willingness to act, their purchase behaviors, and in short, just how people feel and what they do. And we found five different segments, but these really can be defined by two primary factors. And you'll see those on the chart here. It's people's concern about the environment, as well as their willingness to act against it. Right? So there is a really wide range of opinions here.


What that means is that brands can't have a singular focus when communicating or innovating in pursuit of sustainability. And, in fact, what we find is that, in order to engage multiple of these segments, it's often necessary to present sustainability benefits as a co benefit of your product or your service, rather than the primary benefit of it.


But let's talk a little bit about where there are the biggest gains to be made.


So, if we move to the next slide, you'll see that, generally, people think sustainability is most important when it comes to the products and services that we use every day.


So what this question shows here is that, for the same set of verticals, we ask people both the importance of brands acting sustainably, or in a sustainable manner, and separately, the importance of the specific products or services individuals', by being sustainable, right. So, kind of teasing a brand responsibility versus an individual responsibility here. And as we saw earlier, generally, people are placing greater importance on the brand's actions versus the impact of any singular purchase decision.


So, there's a slightly larger emphasis here on the overall brand activity that on those individual products and services.


In addition, we tend to place greater importance on sustainability. When it comes to the products we're using every day. Those more frequent touchpoints. Things like paper products, cleaning laundry, food, and beverage, even, automobiles, as opposed to things like air travel, furniture, so forth. And it's interesting, because even in these everyday categories, however, there are many factors that are going to drive or purchase decisions, as we talked about in the beginning of this presentation. And those real life factors lead us to what we call the safe choose gap. To illustrate this, we have some additional research on research in which we asked consumers which materials they perceived to be the most eco friendly in the area of food and beverage.


So the top response you'll see here was paper or Cartan, followed by glass with plastic and metal lagging pretty far behind.


And if we build this page here, we also screened some ideas for product packaging.


And we made up concepts using a fictitious brand of ready to drink coffee, and used a dual approach, in which we put many of these pack, these packs up side by side, to kind of put some rubber to the road, and see what choices consumers make, Even after, they told us about which materials they perceive to be sustainable.


The various concepts are shown here, and rank order. and big surprise, people didn't necessarily choose the most sustainable option as their preferred option and the carton which people would have perceived as perhaps, the most sustainable trends towards the back of the pack. If we followed these kind of, tool bars and scream. And in this case, it seems that consumers are actually tending towards the category norms for a product of this type, something like glass, or paths or plastic, rather than seeking necessarily the most eco friendly option.


And, if we continue to the next slide, I think that we can all admit that at times, we all like what's familiar to us, right? So, as we saw with some of those quotes earlier, people can be suspicious of change and, as a result, when products or packaging are changed, brands really need to consider the holistic product usage experience.


So, we're going to walk through a few examples of air quoting heavily simple packaging changes to under to kind of illustrate how we might consider that usage experience.


So, if we first take this example of Coca Cola's keil clip, which is a paperboard carrier, that's meant to replace those plastic rings, we've all been told there are so bad.


This is likely a pretty low risk change, This is a secondary packaging, it's not necessarily going to interact or upset the way I interact with the can itself, assuming this thing works, And I've told it works very well, and as a result, this kinda falls within that bucket of newer different packaging that consumers would find, pretty acceptable.


If we build on another example, however, this is a pasta box in which the plastic window was removed to just eliminate the use of plastic on this packaging. And, again, this is only a pack change, meaning the product inside hasn't changed, but it kind of does impact, perhaps my shopping experience. And that I'm no longer able to that the quality of the pasta I'm buying before I take this home.


But there's also perhaps another touch point in which this sits in my cupboard and I use that window as a way to kind of cue me to pick up more pasta at the shop. if it's low, if it's below that line, This is another way in which your interaction with that product is fundamentally going to be different as a result of this packaging change. As a result, kind of a few additional things to consider there.


And I'd say that the highest risk scenario we have on this slide would be this Johnnie walker paper based bottle. So this technology is inspiring. It is very cool to move from a glass bottle to a paper bottle, but the launch will require some careful thought about consumers' expectations, needs states when making, making choices for or spirits. Because you can imagine, if people are very proud to display the current black label bottle on their bar chart, will they feel the same way about this new paper based model. And in addition, this current glass bottle might prime me for a very premium, smooth drinking experience, with even the tactile nature of the bottle. What impact does paper have on that experience, And what I expect of that engagement with the brand.


So, in many cases, embarking upon these initiatives is, as much, or even some cases, more about Reddit mitigating risk than it is about seeing a sudden increase in sales.


So then we might ask on the next slide, why should we care if there's not necessarily an immediate revenue gain?


Why do we care? And to answer that, we really do need to take a bit of a broader view.


So, we continually monitor global concerns, and our monthly, what worries the world survey, where we really just ask people, what is their top priority of their top concern at the moment?


And, as you can see on this chart, which lists climate change along with other topics like inflation and coronavirus, consumer expectations and demands for more sustainable practices are higher now than they ever have been. But, they've also withstood pressures of the pandemic there, withstanding.


pressures related to inflation and it's not a question of when companies should pursue a sustainability agenda but really how they should go about it.


So, luckily for that, Henry is going to give us some pointers about how to effectively communicate some of these efforts.


Cool, thank you, Brittany.


So, as Danielle mentioned very early on, we did a basically a two phase approach on this research. And this part sort of, was an interesting, where we had our members take part in the discussion with our moderators. And the way that we had sort of setup is that we gave them a scenario saying, if you were to host a dinner party, you know, inviting your, you know, your favorite brands, you know, and the topic of sustainability came up. What are some things that you want sort of expect to hear from them, what are some things you'd like to hear from them, and then interestingly at the end, if you know, the next day after sort of, send you a thank you note for hosting them for dinner.


What's sort of that one sentence you'd want to hear back from them when it comes to sustainability?


And note that this is, you know, a very different research methods that we use qualitatively where it's sort of a discussion aspects. And we have moderate is basically probing folks to sort of discuss more. So we don't just get through the initial responses on interview questions that are moderate. We'll go back into the platform with our members, and sort of ask, oh, could you tell me more about this? Oh, Could you explain a bit more, allowing us to get more deeper with our members, and they get additional data points in the analysis?




So to that end, became up in the conversations. We ended up basically four different areas of topics when it comes to sustainability that they'd like to hear, and I'll go a little more deeper in the next couple of slides, but overall, it sort of covers an area.


So the brand sustainable efforts, sharing information and efforts with other brands, how consumers can partner with other brands in this area, and really balancing the consumer needs, Which will be very familiar from this stuff that we talked about a little bit earlier.


So, really, sort of the first part. So, sustainability efforts, from a communication perspective, consumers want to hear how brands are basically helping the world. When it comes to sustainability and each stage of the process, they're already defining it in different ways. So, being able to communicate in those areas is gonna be important. How objects, source? How long will products last? Interesting, Interestingly in the re-using aspect, they want to hear how can actually use this product beyond the life cycle. So, you know, think of sort of you think of those crafty websites that people talk about where you can use this product for this as an alternative way. So, being able to sort of communicate that to consumers will help them understand, like, how they can use it beyond that, and then lastly, so, the recycled disposable aspect, you know, being clear in communicating how folks can actually leverage the materials in other recycled materials in a way that they're doing a responsibly and sustainably.


one interesting that came up in this came from that second box about sharing with brands is, you know, they see sustainability as an effort as a shared effort across brands. They don't see this in. Sustainability has been successful if one brand just does it. So, they're thinking that, if, you know, very successful, brands are able to be sustainable in certain ways, that, they're actually able to share their knowledge with lesser sustainable brands. And being able to, that way, become sort of a joint effort, and actually communicating that effort to them, so they can see that there's sort of a brand halo effect. And sort of, a positive view on brand, because they're able to sort of take this, you know, information share with others, and seeing, as it's a shared effort to be successful.


But that partnership to not just be with the brand themselves, but also involve the consumers. And for them, they want to know really clearly how they can be a part of this process, and it's a very explicitly noting that has to be very clear for them.


You sort of think about, sort of, you know, from a recycling perspective, from recycling perspective. They'll see sort of those little triangles on the, on the containers. And being clear, on not having a clear understanding how to recycle, they really want to know how to really use re-use those protect products, and how to recycle them clearly.


So if there are clear ways to sort of repurpose them, they'd like to know, and having that communication being clear for them really helps them be a part of that process and not be ambiguous towards them.


And the last of the four is really sort of the balancing the consumer needs. They would like to see sustainable products exist. They think it's a really great idea, but don't impact how they're, you know, the pricing availability of their products. They're concerned that it's going opposite impact, their shopping behaviors, but also just they don't want to see brands view this as sort of a cash grab. Like, yeah, we'll be sustainable, But we're going to increase prices with that. They want to see that as a sort of a shared effort and being seen as something that they should impacts. Their main needs when it comes to shopping for products.


So to that end, you know, for consumer sustainability is really an important effort for them, especially as Brittney, I mentioned earlier for as personal for personal products. But he didn't want to see experience any compromises on pricing and availability for that to be successful.


Additionally, part of the exercise does need a partnership with consumers and other brands. Because it's really a joint effort. If we're, the intention, is obviously to help this world and help sort of make this a much better place for everyone.


But also, you'll want to make sure they communicate these clearly to them. So the shoppers can see that you are making this effort in sustainability and communicating. Clearly, how folks can actually participate in this, and that way, they can feel that they're a part of this process in a very clear and actionable way.


So that ends the good part of the PR presentation. So if there's any particular questions, they want to ask.


Yeah, Henry, we do have a few here, and I think this first one is for you. And it's, are there any other demographic differences besides age, when it comes to the importance of sustainability?


Good question. So we actually took a look at other demos, such as ethnicity and income. We actually came in with a hypothesis, thinking that maybe folks were much more affluent who might have the disposable income to actually feel sustainable sustainable. It'd be more important for them. It didn't really pan out clearly. I think it was basically, sort of a mixture of different perspective, but I think the biggest driver for now is just based on age.


And, um, a follow up to that, any recommendations on short term actions, or long term actions?


Um, I don't know. If any particular, for short term unlocked, I know, obviously pretty you mentioned sort of like the products that they should be considering, like the packaging.


I think anything that sort of fits within the needs of packaging or no changes of ingredients that folks are much more open to being sustainable. That doesn't impact pricing is probably where brands or at least to start focusing on and then, you know, maybe in the communication aspect for long term seeing where the value comes in for seeing that sustainability that might make pricing much more palatable.


No. I think that's exactly right, especially given that for, now, consumers are saying that, those are the places where they're, they're willing to accept a little bit more in terms of trading off for sustainability. And there's another question here. What expectations do consumers have in terms of government and sustainability? And we didn't explore that within this piece of research though Ipsos broadly has done research on this topic before. And of course, this would change depending on on the market that you're in. We know that some places there, legislation is perhaps further along down the line in terms of sustainability than others. But generally what we see is that while consumers do, you place the greatest responsibility upon the brands, and after that is government, followed by individuals themselves. So it's kind of middling between gov or brand, an individual responsibility.


And in addition, I see many questions related to the segmentation. Know that there is much more to come on that very soon. There will be a full, published paper available on this within the next few days. So, stay tuned, backend, for more on that.


And, with that, I'm going to thank you all for your time today, and, if we haven't gotten to your question here, I believe we've covered them.


Oh, actually, perhaps there's one more, and this is, I guess, a new question about the segmentation, about the different profiles, and actually, we could voice over quickly what those are.


If you wanted to flip back to the slide with the Segmentation, Henry, I can speak very broadly to those. Sure!


So, as I mentioned, there's really kind of two primary factors that people fell against, and that was their level of concern for the environment, as well as their willingness to act upon that concern.


And, luckily, the names are pretty self explanatory in terms of things like activists. These are people who feel like it's a climate crisis. We need to act now and they're willing to sacrifice their, their kind of lifestyle as a result.


The pragmatists, the pragmatists, here have a moderate level of concern and they're willing to do kind of low cost, home oriented updates to their routine but will make some tradeoffs when necessary.


The busy bystanders and conflicted contributors are really interesting and that they do think that the climate crisis is a concern except there are kind of bigger barriers for them to act for busy bystanders. It's all about they don't want to sacrifice convenience. They don't want to switch up their routine or the products they buy. Whereas with conflicted contributors, their primary barrier is more related to finances. They're not able to, or don't, aren't willing to pay more for sustainable options. And finally, the disengaged denialists, these are folks who either don't think climate change is something that we need to be worried about are things that the worry about that is overblown.


I was starting to say there will be much more to come on this in the coming days. So, again, I'd like to thank all of you for being here, for spending some time with us, and watch out for a recording soon. With that, will give you a little bit of you of your day back and have a Have a great afternoon.

The author(s)
  • Danielle Edwards EVP, Ipsos Online Communities, NA
  • Henry Solorzano Vice President, US, Ipsos Online Communities
  • Brittany Calvert VP, Ipsos Innovation

Consumer & Shopper