While companies are making a record number of public commitments to climate and sustainability goals, consumers are lagging behind in support, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) that shows that 70% of consumers polled indicated they were skeptical of corporate sustainability claims and commitments, and only 20% believed they could personally make an impact.
The report, based on a survey of 19,000 consumers across the U.S., Germany, Japan, Italy, China, France, Brazil, and India, shows that while the overwhelming majority of consumers–up to 80% according to BCG–said they were concerned about sustainability, less than 10% have paid a premium for purchases of sustainable goods and services. The gap appears to be significant, though the consultancy argues that focusing only on those two extremes conveys an incomplete picture of actual consumer behavior.
"It's easy to interpret these signals as a lack of consumer readiness, but companies will never maximize the potential of sustainable products and services if they focus only on consumers who are willing to pay a premium," said Aparna Bharadwaj, a BCG Managing Director and Partner and Global Head of BCG's Center for Customer Insight, who coauthored the report. "There's a significant number of 'in between' consumers who are just on the threshold of embracing sustainable products and services. The key question is, 'How do we encourage these consumers to act?'"
BCG’s report has identified three key imperatives to accelerate consumer adoption of sustainable lifestyles. By making claims locally relevant, businesses can make consumer communications relevant and understandable, tailoring messages differently than they would to internal business teams, investors, or regulators. Companies can also broaden the dialogue around sustainability, persuading 20% to 43% of consumers to make sustainable choices by communicating a broader set of product benefits beyond ESG-specific goals. Businesses can also remove real barriers or use effective communication to address perceived barriers that cause consumer hesitation to purchase sustainable products.
By working to overcome consumer perceptions that sustainable products are more expensive and less effective, companies can better target core consumer needs and make ESG a win-win for everyone, reaching the far greater segment of people who believe sustainability matters, but who are not yet putting their money into sustainable products.