MONTREUX: Sustainability will be a key long-term issue for companies looking to engage with consumers, as popular preferences and purchase behaviour both change, according to one of the keynote speeches at the ESOMAR Congress 2009.

Speaking at the event – covered in full here – Adam Werbach, ceo of Saatchi & Saatchi S, the sustainability agency, said the corporate world will be forced to recognise and address an increasing range of ecological and financial challenges.

"Companies will be a part of sustainability, or they'll be bowled over by it," he predicted.

More specifically, brands will have to establish a forward-looking "north star goal" based around responsibility and transparency, rather than just being "green".

Wal-Mart's aim of reducing its level of food wastage to zero, and Toyota's efforts to make "air-cleaning cars", were among the examples mentioned by Werbach as fitting this description.

He also cited the results of a survey undertaken in the US, UK, Japan, Mexico, and the BRIC nations in order to identify consumer preferences when it came to areas requiring immediate action.

Social issues were mentioned by 59% of contributors, with the environment on 58%, the economy on 53%, and cultural matters on 36%.

Embracing this agenda could not only have benefits for the planet, but may also provide additional knock-on implications in terms of sales.

"People want to feel as if they are helping, and when they feel better, they buy more. And 95% of them believe that companies can make products more sustainably than they currently do," Werbach said.

Among the other findings of the poll were that consumers in emerging markets typically viewed sustainable behaviour as part of everyday life.

By contrast, their counterparts in the US and UK were more sceptical, partly due to the over-selling of the green agenda, and because of the perceived lower performance of some eco-friendly products.

To view WARC's full coverage of the ESOMAR Congress 2009, click here.

Data sourced from WARC