As consumers, we all know we should be doing more to help society and the environment. There’s no shortage of media articles telling us we should be cutting down on food waste, actively using less plastic and not buying into fast fashion.

But often the accountability falls upon the consumer rather than the brand itself. 

While some brands shout about their green credentials, Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR for short – is still not talked about as much as it should be in 2019.

In reality, the growing consciousness about climate change is empowering consumers to demand more from their favorite brands. 

We hear of brands partnering with charities, switching to ethically sourced ingredients, or opting for sustainable packaging, for example. But there are still many out there who aren’t as entrenched in CSR, when actually, it can create great benefits for both society and a brand’s reputation

So how many consumers out there actually care about CSR? 

How many consumers are aware of CSR?

According to a bespoke study we carried out in the UK and U.S., just 1 in 3 people are aware of CSR and what it means. 

This does vary across different consumers groups, however. Those with a degree are not only more likely to be aware, but are also more likely to believe that CSR is relevant in today’s political, social and economic climate. 

Perhaps surprisingly, younger people are the least clued up when it comes to CSR. That’s not to say they’re ignorant when it comes to social responsibility, though – 16-24s are the most likely to want the brands they buy from to produce eco-friendly products and to support charities.

This makes sense when we consider this audience has the most at stake when it comes to the future of the environment.

Do consumers care about whether brands give back?

Two-thirds of consumers think it’s important to contribute to the community they live in – and buying into brands that partner with charities is an easy way to for these consumers to feel like they’ve given back. 

A good example of this is back in 2006, when TOMS donated a free pair of shoes to a child in need whenever a pair was sold. This resulted in over 60 million pairs of shoes being donated. 

Another example of a brand having improved its image and reputation through charity partnership schemes is Waitrose. With its Community Matters program, the supermarket has raised over £30 million since its launch in 2008.

These kinds of initiatives not only give people a feeling they’re supporting their community and others, they also help to improve the brand’s image – which could sway some consumers into choosing that brand over another.

Our research shows 1 in 10 consumers are loyal to their favorite brands because they know the company makes charitable donations.

Consumers scrutinize the food industry, but why does fashion get off easy?

The food industry has been under scrutiny more than ever over the past few years.

Large food companies are receiving constant criticism for their use of unsustainable palm oil, as well as packaging which isn’t recyclable. 

It’s unsurprising, then, that over half believe that the food industry should be held more accountable for having a better CSR policy. What is perhaps surprising, is that the fashion industry is so far down on the list when it comes to CSR accountability. 

Which industries should have a better CSR policy

Only 1 in 3 consumers believe the fashion industry should be held more accountable. 

In reality, the fashion industry, in particular the low-cost, high-volume fast-fashion retailers, is one of the biggest culprits.

Water pollution, toxic chemical use and textile waste are just some of the costs to the environment that result from consumers’ love of fast fashion. But consumer awareness around the environmental impact of fashion remains relatively low.

It could also be attributed to a general unwillingness from consumers to stop buying into fast fashion.

This can be seen in the UK with companies like Primark, ASOS and Missguided thriving, despite Missguided finding itself in hot water after launching a £1 bikini this summer. Being trendy and wearing the latest fashions at a low-cost seems to often outweigh being ethical.

Our research shows that globally, fashion fans are 70% more likely than average to think their favorite brands should make them feel cool and trendy.

Sustainability is slow to hit the agenda of most fast-fashion brands. H&M talks about sustainability more than most others in the market, but there are plenty of other brands who are yet to join them. 

Social media is an ideal channel for fashion brands to show off their sustainability initiatives to consumers.

Our research shows that those who do believe that the fashion industry should be more accountable find out the latest news about brands they love through social networks.

A brand doing this well is Adidas. In 2018, they produced more than five million pairs of shoes using recycled plastic waste from the ocean. They were vocal about this initiative through their social media channels and promoted their #RunForTheOceans hashtag on Instagram. 

While some of these recycled products may come at a premium, our data shows that younger people, especially 16-34s, are 30% more likely than the average to say they would pay more for sustainable products. They’re also more likely to say that when shopping online, they would consider buying a product if they know the brand is environmentally friendly.

Clearly, beyond just boosting a brand’s image, behaving ethically can lead to financial gains too. 

What does it take for a consumer to stop buying a brand?

When we asked consumers what damages their perception of a brand, the main factors are actually things which impact the consumer’s experience of buying the brand rather than the brand’s social or environmental impact. 

What damages consumers' perception of a brand

Over half say that poor quality products would make them think less of a brand, while a third say that poor customer service would ruin the brand’s image in their eyes.

By contrast, factors which impact society or the environment fell further down the list: only a fifth said that a poor environmental track record would make them dislike a brand. 

However, when looking at whether people would actually be committed to boycotting brands they feel are not socially responsible, only 1 in 3 say they would. The others are either considering, unsure of what to do or continuing to use the brand. 

While people aren’t ready to let go of beloved brands because of their social wrongdoings, people – particularly affluent groups – are definitely happy to pay more for brands they know are having a positive impact on society or the environment.

Over the coming year, pressure to be green is set to influence and create new product categories, and brands need to start seeing this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Especially, when there are financial benefits to be had beyond just good PR.

But to fully realize the true potential of the green market, businesses must lead the way in helping consumers change their behaviors.

And that requires removing the hurdles between would-be green consumers’ intentions and their actions.

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