What organisations can do to reach sustainability-led consumers

With the 26th UN climate change conference (COP26) now taking place in Glasgow, it is not just world leaders whose focus has (finally) shifted towards the sustainability of our future on the planet, writes Julia Hoy from Sefiani.

The majority of Australians are now well and truly along for the ride, too, with research from EY (the Future Consumer Index) showing that 90% of Australians have changed their behaviours to live in a more sustainable way. While the level of commitment to sustainability varies, the magnitude of this number presents a substantial risk to any business that is not following suit.

Ignited by what feels like an almost endless cycle of natural disasters – from the extremes of bushfires to cyclones and droughts to floods, the Covid-19 pandemic further fanned the flames of change. En masse we’ve taken an internal deep-dive into our lifestyles, health and survival, with 46% of Australians saying the pandemic has changed their values and views on life.

Some of the long-term changes to people’s lives resulting from COVID-19 will be for the better

Topping our list of sustainability concerns is the impact of climate change, followed by plastic waste and human rights. And almost half of us are willing to put our time and our money where our hearts are – 44% of Australians say they will pursue a sustainable approach to life even if it comes at a greater cost to their time and wallets, while 78% say sustainability is important when making a purchasing decision, with environmental concerns topping the list.

Cynics may suggest that this could be the say-do gap in action; the paradox between what people say they’ll do and the reality of their behaviours. But where some will be sceptical, others will see opportunity. The smartest organisations will be able to harness this willingness and devise ways to nudge consumers towards actions they are already open to taking.

Product packaging is a major area of concern for consumers, with 92% of us now taking reusable bags when shopping, and 89% of us reusing or recycling packaging after use. It also presents a starting point for businesses, as one way to address sustainability concerns quickly while exploring options for any larger scale changes required to make core products more sustainable.

Sustainable preferences drive purchase decisions

Communicating on green

However, it is no good making changes to improve sustainability without communicating these changes to consumers. Effective communication lies at the heart of any organisation’s ability to connect with this new breed of sustainability-focused consumer.

In order to buy more sustainably, 65% of us want better information to help us make more informed choices. To be effective, this communication needs to be simple, clear and engaging.

But while the journey may start with something like packaging, it cannot stop there. Consumer sophistication will continue to evolve in this area, and along with it, demands for organisations to do more. Sustainability will need to be embedded in an organisation’s core purpose, not just in its products, and reflected in its brand values, not just in its marketing.

Consumers desire to live and buy sustainably

Quantifiable evidence of the impact of an organisation’s actions will need to be provided to increasingly savvy consumers. Millennials and the consumers of tomorrow – Gen Z – are making lifestyle choices based on their sustainability values, such as opting for public transport or plant-based diets, that go well beyond the recycling and BYO shopping bags adopted by their Baby Boomer and Gen X counterparts.

More importantly, they will continue to do so as their earning (and spending) capacity increases.

We are increasingly looking to businesses – not government – for leadership; 71% of Australians believe brands have a responsibility to make change in the world. Any organisation that still believes the level of effort required to shift towards sustainability outweighs the benefits has failed to recognise that the winds of change are blowing, and they are only blowing in one direction.

Julia Hoy is the Head of Sustainability Communications at Sefiani