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‘Eco-friendly’ products and their ability to be recycled, carbon footprint, and renewable energy sources are some of the hot topics driving consumer buying habits now more so than ever before.

Consumers are prioritising products, services, and businesses that are accountable and responsible for their environmental and social impact on the world. It is not just price and quality that drives consumer habits anymore.

This has become clearly evident with the increasing support towards big global environmental campaigns, like Plastic Free July, for example. This is a global campaign aimed at recruiting consumers to commit to reducing single-use plastics, starting in the month of July. In 2022, an estimated 140 million people took part in this campaign, with 88% of participants making a lasting change to cut out single-use plastic entirely. Last year the campaign also drew widespread media attention with 1900 pieces of media getting published globally reaching 2.3 billion people. One could accurately describe this as a ‘wave of consumer awareness’ towards single-use plastic. This is just one example of how consumer habits have shifted to fall in alignment with an environmental cause.

When this type of consumer action happens – businesses and corporations listen and respond. Key market drivers are now price, quality, and environmental responsibility. But consumers aren’t looking for companies to adopt surface-level initiatives, but rather deep and entrenched action so that consumers can follow the thread of ethical and sustainable production.

Your average consumer nowadays is so much more clued up about sustainability issues around the world. Conversations around the dinner table are more likely to include topics like climate change, carbon emissions, and sustainable food sources. Access to information on sustainability as well as the amount of information available to the average person, allows us to make informed decisions on the businesses we support and the products we buy.

Being informed and up to date on the latest sustainability initiatives allows consumers to hold organisations accountable when they enforce these surface-level initiatives in the name of ‘greenwashing’. But for some this term will be unfamiliar, so what does it mean?

With this wave of conscious consumerism, corporations have identified that the term ‘sustainable’ is a marketing buzzword that sells; big time. Weave ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethically sourced’ into your product marketing, and you’ve captured the attention of the majority of your market. While this may be the plan, if a corporation cannot back this up with substantial evidence that they are actually reducing their environmental footprint or contributing positively towards the environment or society in some way, their very own consumers will call them out as being dishonest, misleading, and inauthentic. This is greenwashing; shouting out your sustainability initiatives, but having no way of actually showing it, and consumers around the world are calling out corporations one by one for greenwashing.

One of the biggest greenwashing callouts in 2020, included a multinational oil and gas company, which through research, has proven to contribute to 2% of global emissions. Basic desk research will quickly reveal the group in question. The oil and gas sector by any means is not a clean and sustainable sector, however, the group’s marketing team has been touting ‘major investments’ into renewable energy and reducing their carbon emissions. Meanwhile, independent sector reports have verified that in fact, their investments have gone in the opposite direction, back towards developing their fossil fuel infrastructure.

We can look at greenwashing as the way in which consumers and the general public keep corporations accountable for what they say and do. Sustainability and sustainable living have become intrinsic values and priorities for most people today. They want to trust more than a company’s marketing; they want to see the facts and evidence that the ‘sustainable’ product that they are buying is in fact sustainable which encapsulates everything from how it is sourced, manufactured, packaged, and sold.

Today we have independent research agencies and investigative journalists diving into what is really going on inside a company. Consumers are also taking the time to pick apart annual reports and other official documents to see the actual data that inform them whether a corporation is living up to its promise as a responsible entity.

With this wave of conscious consumerism, we also have more corporations that are doing the right thing by sharing their sustainability goals and reporting their progress, in a transparent and authentic manner. Which MATTERS.

‘Putting your money where your mouth is’ so to speak, builds transparency and trust both of which are essential for customer retention and aligning with your employees and, even, brand values. Organising your company to work towards a common goal is a simple way of driving up productivity and streamlining the nature of your clients and projects. As a truly responsible entity, an organisation will approach its sustainability plans with a measurable approach, a means of tracking progress, and a willingness to share both the highs and lows with the world – with the knowledge that the consumer will ultimately make the final decision.