NEW YORK: Corporate claims of sustainability are less important to consumers than the reality of the products and services they choose, but the overall image of a good corporate citizen is enough to swing marginal decisions, according to Interbrand.

The brand consultancy recently released a report on the 50 Best Global Green Brands, which featured five auto marques in the top ten. One explanation for this, suggested Erica Velis, Interbrand content editor, was that the brands had "invested in creating innovative products that serve as clear evidence of their commitment to sustainability".

As well as studying the sustainability performance of brands, that report examined consumer perceptions of those same brands and found that they looked primarily to the products or services on offer as proof of a brand's commitment to the environment.

But almost one third of respondents globally (31%) felt that the environmental activities of different companies appeared very similar, while 35% did not trust information supplied by a company about its environmental efforts.

Interbrand's research showed that, all other things being equal, overall brand image and reputation would play a vital role in the final consumer choice – the perception that a brand was a good employer, good to the earth, practised what it preached, and generally behaved like a good corporate citizen.

It was no longer enough, said Velis, to make progress towards sustainability targets and to publish the achievements in a sustainability report. Rather, it was "the multitude of messages, gestures, and efforts that build the collective perception" of a brand.

That meant staying socially relevant, giving back in significant ways and working to overcome cynicism, at the same time as fostering trust and inspiring admiration and participation.

Tom Zara, Interbrand's global Corporate Citizenship practice leader, said: "As concern about the environment, the treatment of workers, and long-term sustainability grows, corporate citizenship will increasingly determine which brands consumers invite into their lives."

Data sourced from Interbrand; additional content by Warc staff