Most consumers think brands are misleading on sustainability

Most consumers think brands are misleading on sustainability

More than half of global consumers believe brands across all industries are misleading when reporting their sustainability actions.

That is according to Kantar’s latest Sustainability Sector Index report, an annual study on consumers’ sustainability concerns and behaviours.

The study underlines the lack of trust consumers have in sustainability efforts for most products across industries, caused in part by a belief that brands are misleading the public through their sustainability advertising.

According to consumers, social media (60%), meat or meat products (58%), clothing and footwear (57%), motor vehicles (57%), and supermarkets (56%) are the worst offenders when it comes to greenwashing concerns. Meanwhile, even brands in the best-performing sector (pet food) were still believed by more than four in 10 respondents to be sharing false or inaccurate information regarding their sustainability efforts.

“Born-good” sectors, like electric vehicles and alternative meat products, are notably still believed by a majority of consumers to be misleading in their sustainability advertising, according to the report.

“Half of global consumers believe brands across all sectors are greenwashing their activities, putting customers’ trust at risk through miscommunication and misguided strategies,” said Karine Trinquetel, Kantar’s global head of offer for sustainable transformation practice.

“Brands need a nuanced understanding of the opportunities to cut through and drive meaningful change. Acting with bravery and boldness to lead the way in sustainability has never been a more critical imperative, regardless of your sector”.

The study, which was based on 26,000 interview worldwide, asked consumers to rank 42 business sectors on their perception of the sectors’ sustainability practices. The report found that, while predictably oil and gas companies ranked poorly (4th-worst), luxury products, vaping, were considered even worse.

According to Kantar’s analysis, there nevertheless continues to be a “value action gap” — a dissonance between consumers’ intentions and behaviours toward sustainability. This discrepancy exists most in sectors of oil and gas (66%), clothing and footwear (63%), packaged foods (62%), travel and hospitality (62%), and cleaning and home care products (62%), implying that users’ demand for such products is more inelastic despite their intentions to wean themselves off purchasing products they see as bad for the environment.

Speaking on a recent episode of The Media Leader Podcast, Scope3 co-founder and chief operating officer Anne Coghlan noted that consumers are constantly struggling to understand which products are actually sustainable. “I think there’s a lot of confusion as to, Am I doing the right thing as a consumer? You think you are, you’ve bought something that [says it is] sustainable and then it comes out in the news that it actually wasn’t. There is a consumer trust issue. […] There should be an onus on brands to be educating what it means when they put labels on their products.”

Podcast: how should media move faster on sustainability?

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