The glaciers are melting, the rainforests are burning and Extinction Rebellion is causing trouble for London commuters.
We might be carrying around reusable cups, drinking more oat milk and attempting to cut out some plastics, but, as the Guardian uncovered in its exposé in October this year, analysis by the Climate Accountability Institute shows that 20 companies alone contribute 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (and equivalent) since 1965.104 Discerning consumers, however, might just have got their message across…
In August this year, the BRT (a US thinktank of CEOs from the Fortune 500) reissued its mission statement. Moving away from focussing purely on the needs of shareholders towards the concerns of a wider group, including consumers, employees, the community and the environment.105 While public opinion trends have pointed to this for a while, there appears to have been an unmistakable shift in the blurring of citizens and consumers, and this change in the BRT reflects the growing pressure on businesses to do more than increase stock prices.
Our data reinforces this idea and shows that consumers are making decisions about their product and brand purchases dependent on shared values and greater societal purpose. Our analysis of more than 9,000 customer interactions across nine sectors helps us identify the key ingredients to strong relationships between companies and their customers.106
Forty per cent of customers agree that they want to share the same values as the company that they are buying from, and this rises to nearly half (49%) of those interacting with hotel booking sites, 46% with supermarkets and 45% with banks. We can see that those who feel they have shared values are more likely to recommend or have a higher emotional connection with the company.
With the rise of climate consciousness among consumers, it is no surprise that businesses are responding.
Age also has an impact here. The highest recorded feeling of needing to share values with the company you purchase from is at age 20, with a clear trend showing declining agreement with this discerning consumption over our lifetime. Does this reference a Gen Z ‘woke’ness, or is it representative of how the young have always spent their money? Our work on Millennials indicates that sustainable spending is unlikely to be dependent on your generation (cohort), and is much more likely a feature of age (life stage),107 although are we witnessing a change in the tide?
In a recent interview with WARC, P&G’s Marc Pritchard emphasises brands’ growing need to build in ‘citizenship’.108 While the outcome is surely the right one, it is worth remembering that this is not all philanthropic. As Pritchard notes: “[Culturally relevant programmes] get amplified by influencers, they get amplified by the media, they get amplified in social media. They ended up having an even higher ROI, in some cases, because you don’t have to invest as much.”109 Capitalism may yet embrace the truly circular economy – with enough regulation.