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Make Sustainability mean something say consumers

NEW YORK: A new study says only a third of consumers connect sustainability and brands when making a purchasing decision.

Produced by Accenture and Havas Media, a poll of 30,000 consumers in 20 countries suggests there's a disconnect between business and consumer expectations of sustainable products and services.

The report, From Marketing to Mattering, is a companion to the 2013 UN Global Compact-Accenture Study on Sustainability that said two thirds of CEOs admitted business is not doing enough to address sustainability challenges.

Accenture surveyIn the new survey 73 percent of consumers agree businesses are failing to support society and the environment.

According to Accenture, while CEOs see engagement with consumers as the single most important factor to accelerate progress on sustainability, the new research suggests only 23 percent of consumers regularly think about sustainability in assocation with brand performance.

Despite this gap between action and perception, the study notes that while there are differences in sentiment and purchasing behaviour between consumers in developing and developed markets, they all expect businesses to improve the planet and society.

"Emerging market consumers see a direct link between the products they buy and the quality of their lives," said Hava CEO Sharon Johnson. "They also suffer the negative consequences of irresponsible production and corruption more immediately. In mature economies, where these links are weaker, brands can no longer win consumers over by burnishing their sustainable credentials.

"People know more about products and companies than ever before. To be meaningful today, brands must create products and services that tangibly make a difference to people's lives while fulfilling sustainable criteria. For all consumers, meaningfulness matters. Being a meaningful corporation or brand is not based on how you give money away anymore; it's about how you do business," she added.

The study suggests three areas of action for successful consumer engagement: promote a commitment to honesty and transparency and end corruption; be responsible, avoid the greenwash and deliver tangible improvements to consumers' lives; and shift communication from obsessing about sustainable credentials to actually demonstrating a purpose and relevance to society and the environment.

"CEOs told us in our previous research with the UN Global Compact that they struggle to identify the business value of sustainability even though they know that consumers are the most important determinant of their approach to sustainability," said Peter Lacy, Accenture Sustainability Services, Asia-Pacific. "It is clear that many companies, especially in mature economies, need to shift from marketing sustainability performance to delivering innovative products and services that consumers will respond to. In other words, companies must offer improved consumer value propositions in which sustainability is inbuilt, not just a marketing tool."

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