Sustainability: Opportunities and challenges for brands

This article is part of a series of articles on sustainability. Read more.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 12.6 million people die from environmental health risks annually

Sustainability is a broad, all-encompassing term and it’s often difficult to know where to start. This paper highlights the forces of change driving the sustainability movement: the environmental challenges impacting people around the world and how governments and corporations are responding. It provides strategies for companies that hope to succeed in the continuously evolving sustainability space. This is a condensed version of our report, Sustainable shoppers buy the change they wish to see in the world.

Need to know

  • A recent global online survey by Nielsen found 81% of respondents feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment, a view that is shared across gender and generations
  • 46% of surveyed global consumers said they would be willing to forgo a brand name to buy environmentally friendly products
  • Industrial agriculture and single-use plastics are the two most notable water pollutants driving today’s consumer sustainability trends, particularly in the FMCG sector
  • Pre-2013 just 20% of S&P 500 companies disclosed their Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) information. In 2018, 85% of S&P 500 companies do disclose their ESG status
  • Corporate responsibility and sustainability strategies isn’t a trend companies can simply side-step. Sooner or later, whether through government regulation or public outcry, companies will need to respond
  • Consumers are constantly reacting to sustainability issues. To stay relevant, companies will need to ensure they are putting consumer needs at the center and doubling down on their marketing and execution strategies
  • There are five main sustainability strategies that retailers and manufacturers are currently adopting – reduce, revamp, innovate, update and integrate
  • Companies need to truly understand what consumers care about, as it relates to their product and category, and refine their marketing and claims to clearly communicate their sustainability approach
  • Where the sustainability product landscape is less developed, companies that establish themselves early can become sustainability champions, and gain competitive advantage
  • It’s no longer enough to say something is recyclable, when consumers know that many recyclable items still end up in landfills and oceans. Instead, they want to know how recyclable your product is
  • As consumers weigh up the choices in front of them, they view each new opportunity through the lens of convenience, price and awareness
  • There is a noticeable trend towards ‘visible and emotional sustainability’ with brands taking a stance on social and political issues and making major commitments to eliminate waste
  • Embed sustainability considerations into each step of your product creation and growth strategy to resonate with consumers in a truly authentic way
  • Companies that take on sustainability challenges and win will wield more political and cultural influence than ever. Consumers will reward brands that keep them, their families and the world safe
  • The evolving approach to corporate sustainability