LONDON: IKEA, L'Oréal and Home Depot are among the brand owners possessing the strongest corporate social responsibility credentials, a multimarket study has found.
Havas and MPG surveyed 30,000 adults in nine countries, including China, France, Germany, Mexico, the UK and US.
The number of "devotees" - the people most engaged with matters like sustainability - hit 46% in Brazil, 45% in China and 42% in Mexico, measured against 19% in Germany.
Some 80% of participants believed companies must act responsibly, and 76% argued businesses, not governments, should deal with environmental and social issues.
However, only 29% thought corporations had reacted well thus far, and 68% suggested CSR efforts typically resulted from attempts to improve image rather than genuine concern.
There was also a "significant gap between intent and reality" in purchase habits, as while 86% of those polled considered such subjects when shopping, half failed to do so systematically.
High prices were the main disincentives regarding greater uptake of green, fairtrade or equivalent offerings for the American, British, French and German samples.
By contrast, the Brazil, China, India and Mexico afforded limited availability a similar status.
"Consumers in China, India and Brazil are the most likely to reward or punish a company based on their CSR profile by choosing to buy or not buy their products," the study added.
"Those in the UK and USA are currently the least frequent ethical purchasers."
Just 33% of the 150 brands assessed were "considered meaningful" by the Havas/MPG panel.
IKEA received the best Brand Sustainable Futures Quotient, monitoring both performance and the impact these schemes exerted on brand equity.
Automakers Volkswagen and BMW, cosmetics giant L'Oréal, household goods group Reckitt Benckiser and hypermarket specialist Carrefour posted some of the largest improvements year-on-year.
Energy and telecoms providers tended to deliver lower scores, while car manufacturers were "dispersed" across the league table.
Home Depot was named the number one sustainable brand by US respondents, beating Kraft and Google, although only 5% of Americans always factored in this area when picking specific items.
In the UK - where high-street chain Marks & Spencer and FMCG firms Danone, Nestlé and Unilever a few leading players - 24% of interviewees would pay 10% more for a responsible product, the lowest total globally.
French shoppers praised retailers Decathlon, Leclerc and Auchan, pharma manufacturer Sanofi-Aventi and consumer goods titan Procter & Gamble.
Spanish contributors lauded lottery operator ONCE and Mercadona supermarkets, with food companies Schwartau and Nestlé commended in Germany.
TV advertising remains the predominant way organisations communicated their activity in this field, especially concerning food, beverage, FMCG and financial services.
Point of sale marketing and on-pack information proved to be the primary means via which customers found out more about corresponding initiatives run by retailers.
Despite this, corporate publications such as newsletters, brochures and official websites constituted the pre-eminent tools consumers used to conduct research.
Word of mouth, be it through social media, influencers, NGOs or friends and family, was also seen as particularly important.
"Sustainability is no longer about responsibility; it's about survival," said Alfonso Rodes Vila, ceo, Havas Media.
"Companies must embrace sustainability as part of their core business and start developing a fluid dialogue with … with consumers and other key networks in society so that their brands contribute to a meaningful purpose."
Data sourced from MarketWatch/Havas; additional content by Warc staff