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Catalyst – Which industries are leading in sustainability? (US, UK, Australia)

The Catalyst program investigates consumer opinions about, and response to, a broad range of social and environmental issues. In parallel, the Glow team (the res-tech that drives Catalyst) have created a unique measure called Social Responsibility Score (SRS) that measures people’s perceptions of social and environmental behavior at both an industry and brand level. SRS helps brands understand what consumers think of an industry’s performance and critically how sustainable (in the broadest sense) individual brands are seen to be. 

The Catalyst team used Glow’s SRS data to analyze 21 industries across the US, UK and Australia, to see which are perceived by consumers to be leading or lagging in making sustainable change.

The findings are clear. Food and Grocery brands and Food & Grocery retailers (supermarkets/grocery/convenience) and the Pharmacy industry (pharmacies/ chemists/drugstores) are seen to be leading sectors across all three markets. The analysis also highlighted untapped opportunity for brands to capitalize on changing consumer behavior by demonstrating their social and environmental credentials.

Read on to see where your industry stands. 

The industries leading & lagging

Leading the pack across all three markets is the Food and Grocery sector – both brands themselves and their retailers (supermarkets/grocery/convenience) along with the Pharmacy industry (pharmacies/ chemists/drugstores). Conversely, the worst performing industry among all assessed was Social Media Platforms, which ranked lowest across the three markets tested. This is likely related to the growing concerns around misinformation and the role social platforms have in spreading ‘news’ and polarizing opinions through algorithmic newsfeed bias. 

Banks are perceived less positively in Australia than in the UK and US. In Australia, Banks are ranked 16th whereas in the UK they are 8th and 6th in the US. This is likely related to the banking Royal Commission and the various breaches of regulations that made news headlines in recent years. This presents clear opportunity for the banking sector to raise its game in Australia. 

Health Insurance companies are perceived to be operating less responsibly in the US than in the UK and AU. They are ranked 6th in the UK, 8th in Australia, and 12th in the US, which likely reflects concerns over the high cost of US healthcare and therefore accessibility for all members of the community. 

The liquor industry was viewed more positively in the UK where it ranked 10th and Australia (13th) when compared with the US where it was ranked among the most socially and environmentally irresponsible industries (19th).

Food Delivery services are seen less favorably in Australia and the UK than in the US with rankings of  20, 17, and 14 respectively. This is likely to reflect strong news coverage around industry social issues in these markets. For example, in Australia there has been significant news coverage of rider injuries and high profile court cases involving ‘gig economy’ employees which have shone a light on these services. 

Energy Providers are viewed as less socially and environmentally responsible in the UK (ranked 18th) than in Australia and the US where they ranked 10th and 8th. This almost certainly reflects the recent energy price hikes in the UK and comes despite the fact that UK energy providers are delivering more green energy than their equivalents in Australia and the US.

Airlines are viewed as more socially responsible in the US (ranked 10th) than in Australia and the UK where they ranked 15th and 19th respectively. 

Brand perceptions differ across markets

In the same way that the performance of industries differs across markets, brands are also seen in a different light by consumers in different markets. Even major brands can have different sustainability credentials across markets. For example, Ben & Jerry’s, well known in the US for both their environmental and social crusading, achieves an above average score in the US market but only a market average score in Australia and the UK.

Another example is Dove which is seen to be performing significantly above average versus other grocery brands in the US but only slightly better than average in Australia and the UK. 

These variances highlight how important it is for brands to measure their performance in market against their competitive set but also to measure across markets to understand whether their approach is resonating in the same way across geographies. 

Weaker ESG brands are at a greater risk of switching

A brand’s social and environmental credentials matter. On average 1 in 4 consumers state they have either stopped / started or switched brands within each industry due to ESG issues. This is consistent across markets (25% in AU and US, 23% in UK). While we know that consumers will sometimes overclaim positive behaviors (the ‘say do’ gap) there is a growing body of evidence that switching is on the rise and is much higher amongst younger versus older generations.   As Triple Pundit point out:

“All of this is not to say that opinions about a company’s performance on sustainability, diversity or fair trade is the sole reason for switching brands. However, data shows these perceptions can be a significant decision point — and in a competitive marketplace among brands, they can tip the scales.”

Triple Pundit

All of which highlights the importance of brands investing in their ESG strategy and having product offerings that meet consumers’ growing desire to support brands that align with their values. 

The brands retailers stock matter

Retailers are seen to be progressive across all 3 markets, ranking #4 in each geography.  Importantly, consumers report that the brands these retailers stock have a large impact on how they perceive the sustainability credentials of the retailer itself: 6 in 10 consumers report that the brands stocked influence their perception of the retailer’s ESG creds either ‘A Lot’ or ‘Completely’.

This is important for multiple types of retailers, but in every country it is most important (c. 5 to 10% above average) for Supermarkets & Convenience Stores / Grocery Stores.

Conclusion

Being a better business is hard, but consumers now expect brands across all industries to play a role in supporting people and the planet. Whether you like it or not, industries and brands are being judged for their behavior. And while consumer expectations differ by industry and by market, it is clear that the brands that are already ahead of expectations are the ones that are reaping the most rewards. What’s your brand’s strategy to stay in the game? 

By Eddie Kowalski

Catalyst Program Director

 

Methodology

Measuring consumer opinions of ESG

Glow’s SRS metric was developed to help organizations measure and manage their progress as they deploy ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) programs. The metric measures the gap between what businesses are doing in the ESG space and what consumers recognize they are doing. It enables businesses to direct their ESG investments into the right areas and to measure how well consumers are responding to those efforts through changing their attitudes or spending patterns. SRS enables brands to track their progress over time, against industry benchmarks and other brands and to see which consumer groups are responding best to their efforts.

Why is it important to measure what consumers think of a business’ ESG efforts? Because consumers care and they are voting with their wallets. Other research indicates that irrespective of industry or market, nine in ten consumers agree that it is important for brands to act in a socially and environmentally responsible way and one in four say they’ve switched brands recently based on sustainability considerations.

So which industries are seen to be at the vanguard of positive change and which are the laggards? Let’s find out. 

Sample

The SRS questions are asked of a nationally representative sample of consumers such that findings are representative of the broad population. 

We achieved approximately 1000 interviews per industry per market. with the following total sample sizes: Australia n=3,038, UK n=2,889 and US n=2,884.

The studies have been conducted using Glow’s research platform with fieldwork conducted in May 2022. 

About Catalyst

Catalyst is an open-source research program investigating consumer concerns about social and environmental issues. The program is building a body of knowledge to fuel conversation, action and behavior change by supporting businesses with insights that fuel their own programs of action. 

Access the reports and raw data free through Glow’s research platform or sign up below to receive email alerts when new data is released.

Our Partners

Glow is a proud partner and research technology provider to the Catalyst program. Special thanks to Cint for providing the sample on which the research is based and to our other partner brands including:

Catalyst partners April 2022
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