BOSTON: The great majority of consumers around the world believe their purchase decisions can have some effect on social and environmental issues and expect brands and businesses to behave in a similar manner a new report has found.

Cone Communications and Ebiquity undertook a global study of consumer attitudes, perceptions and behaviours around corporate social responsibility (CSR), surveying nearly 10,000 citizens in nine countries, including the US, Canada, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, China, India and Japan.

They reported that nine in ten consumers believed companies needed to operate responsibly with regard to society and the environment. And they did not shirk their personal responsibilities in this regard: 84% of consumers globally claimed to seek out responsible products whenever possible.

"Global consumers have high demands for companies to address social and environmental issues, but they now also understand they have an obligation to make change, as well," said Jennifer Ciuffo Clark, research director, Ebiquity.

"It's critical for companies to understand the nuanced drivers, barriers and opportunities that resonate among discerning global audiences."

Nearly three-quarters (72%) believed their own purchases made a moderate-to-significant positive impact on social or environmental issues. And they were willing to make personal sacrifices, whether buying less (81%) or buying a product from an unknown brand if it has strong CSR commitments (80%).

The study suggested that consumers were prepared to forgo elements like ownership or quality to push progress forward, with, for example, 61% willing to borrow or share products rather than buy new ones, while 57% would purchase a product of lesser quality or efficacy if it was more socially or environmentally responsible.

But, warned Alison DaSilva, executive vice president, Cone Communications, "Companies shouldn't take consumers' willingness to make sacrifices as a signal to cut corners".

"Rather, this is an opportunity to engage consumers more fully in new CSR solutions, collaborating to push the boundaries of responsible consumption and lifestyle."

CSR is a boon to brand reputation and affinity and is also a powerful differentiator at the register, as 90% of global consumers would switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause, given similar price or quality.

But while the benefits are evident, just over half (52%) of consumers will assume a company is not acting responsibly until they hear information otherwise, putting pressure on businesses to develop an integrated approach to conveying CSR efforts.

"They need to strike a balance of hyper-targeting CSR content to consumers in ways that are personally relevant, while creating cohesive, always-on communications to break apart from the pack," said DaSilva.

Data sourced from Cone Communications; additional content by Warc staff