As Earth Month 2022 draws to a close, we’re reflecting on the activity and initiatives that our teams have been getting involved with these past four weeks. From introducing a new sustainability SkillGate module to hosting an Inspire Session to hear from external sustainability leaders about what we can do, Earth Month has been a jam-packed few weeks full of inspiration and ideas.
One activity that we wanted to highlight is our new Bauer Insiders research, which this month surveyed its panel - made up of around 5,500 consumers – with a wide variety of questions themed around sustainability; ranging from food waste to travel habits, and brand trust (or lack thereof) to what they see as personal barriers to sustainable living.
The research revealed some interesting top-level trends, as well as providing a deep dive into consumer’s attitudes towards environmental issues, what they expect of businesses and how media companies can best help them to live more sustainable lives.
Below are seven of the key takeaways this Earth Month.
1. Attitudes are changing – for the better.
Public concern for sustainability has continued to grow, accelerated by world events.
There’s no doubting that many have a renewed appreciation for nature, with 53% saying their level of concern was impacted by living through the COVID lockdowns.
Of all social concerns mentioned, it was environmental concerns that continued to lead the way. The overall top three were climate change, mental health and sustainability - coming in well ahead of equal opportunities and racism.
Of those environmental concerns, people were most preoccupied with plastic pollution, deforestation and rising sea levels. This is likely off the back of these issues being the most commonly discussed in the news and in advertising campaigns.
The good news is that a shift in individual attitudes is what sets the wheels of action in motion.
2. Our consumers’ actions are changing accordingly too.
With a growing awareness of the environmental issues we’re facing, most are consciously trying to make small changes in our everyday life.
Consumers have been adopting more sustainable travel habits over the past 12 months, with an uptick in cycling and public transport. Over 40% of those surveyed actively consider the environmental impact of their travel options.
More than a third of our consumers avoid flying where possible for environmental reasons and a quarter aim to offset their carbon emissions when they do fly.
Many plan to make more conscious travel choices over the next couple of years, which will ultimately affect not only the method of transport but also destination and accommodation options.
Another key way consumers are living more sustainably is through their food choices. Nearly two thirds are reducing their food waste through meal planning, being mindful of ‘use by’ dates and buying lower quantities. Over half are also buying products with less plastic packaging and a third are shopping local and/or eating more vegetarian and vegan food.
3. Audience expectations of companies are greater.
The cost-of-living crisis has clearly changed priorities and there is a less harsh attitude towards companies and their eco behaviour than a year ago.
That said, consumer expectations of companies are growing. Around half expect companies to be reducing plastic, educating their staff and being transparent already, but want more from them in the next two years. By 2024, consumers envisage companies committing to these and making further changes.
Surprisingly, more than a quarter don’t have a problem with using a company, whatever their environmental and social credentials. However, 16% will only use a company if they’re actively trying to reduce or offset their impact and 74% think companies should be penalised for failing to care for the environment.
Ultimately this means that on the whole, brands need to not only consider their supply chain and make sustainability commitments, but also to convey them to their consumers in a meaningful way.
4. Trust continues to be an issue
Although many brands are already communicating what they’re doing in the environmental space, the impact of ‘greenwashing’ is noticeable. There is more cynicism around companies’ sustainability claims and increasing distrust of green messaging.
Petrol companies, car manufacturers and domestic energy suppliers were the three biggest sectors that people felt they couldn’t trust.
‘The Moment for Trust’ report from JCDecaux & Clear Channel states that “only 34% of consumers say they trust the brands they use, but 81% say trust is a deciding factor in their purchase journey. There is clearly a big discrepancy here providing brands with an excellent opportunity to build trust in a post-pandemic era”.
Consumers mentioned the sources they trust most when determining if a brand is in fact operating sustainably are official certification, government information and organisations/charities that focus on sustainability. Around 20% trust media articles about sustainability, but only 2% trust celebrities or influencers.
The majority of consumers expect communications about social and green credentials to be visible on brand websites and in advertising messaging. In particular, 60% are interested in hearing positive stories from companies about what they’re doing in terms of social responsibility in the sustainability space.
5. Barriers to living sustainably are still a major obstacle.
Despite sustainability considerations being made during purchase decisions, price and quality still lead by a long way. This trend is likely to continue with the cost-of-living crisis, but brands should account for the fact that whilst it’s not the driving factor, it is a factor nonetheless.
Whilst many said they are willing to pay more for sustainable items, for most it was only up to 10% extra. Items people are willing to pay more for include those made locally, made using sustainable materials or produced in responsible factories.
Although price is the biggest barrier to sustainable living, lack of information plays an important role too.
6. Education is key to improving consumer commitments to sustainability.
Some barriers to sustainable living are harder to shift – like the cost of production or the amount of disposable income people have to spend on goods. Financial constraints, convenience and government policy have become more important in the last year.
However, education around the benefits of living sustainably, the potential environmental impacts of individuals’ decisions and the knowledge that they can make a difference are all barriers that can be diminished.
For example, 55% think that sustainability means more effort and higher prices (up 5% since 2021). 48% find it difficult to know what can and can’t be recycled (+4% since 2021) – something that could be fixed purely through an educational campaign from local councils.
Equally, media has the ability to play a pivotal role in educating people and influencing change. Our consumers rated education as the second most influential factor to increase sustainable behaviours, following local initiatives.
7. Media has a major role to play in sustainability
Thanks to their unique and trusted relationship with their audiences, radio and magazines offer a space where environmental content is welcomed and seen as reliable.
Of those we spoke to, 7 in 10 are interested in environmental magazine content, and 6 in 10 in radio content. The content of most interest included top tips on sustainable living or eco products, along with stories from individuals and brands doing good things.
Media companies are in a privileged position whereby they can not only look at their own environmental practices, but they can influence public action by creating engaging and educational eco content.
Understanding the need for partnership and collaboration with commercial customers will allow media companies to promote and support better sustainability practices.
Overall, concern for sustainability has continued to grow – accelerated by world events - with concerns about environmental issues seen as more important than almost any other social issue.
Not only does this signal that this Earth Month might be the most action-oriented one yet, but it also gives brands and media companies the chance to think more carefully about their own actions and messaging for the coming year.