Consumers ahead of business in sustainability awareness

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Consumers are ahead of business when it comes to their attitude towards sustainability and it affects consumer decisions more than businesses seem to realise, according to Colmar Brunton’s 2014 Better Business Report.

The report outlines the key findings from an annual survey which gauges Kiwis’ attitudes to sustainability.

Colmar Brunton CEO Jacqueline Ireland says the demand for sustainable products continues to increase and that sustainability becomes a bigger concern for New Zealanders with every passing year.

“Consumers want to work for, deal with and buy from organisations they feel good about, and they’re asking businesses and their brands to step up,” she says.

“One of the interesting findings is that the gap in different generations’ attitudes to sustainability is closing. In the past, the attitude shift was driven by older generations, but the younger generation is now driving the mainstreaming of sustainability and it’s reflected in how they behave.”

The research shows that the gap between older and younger generations’ attitudes to the environment has halved between 2009 and now.


While social and health issues are consistently more of a hot topic for people than the environment, the environment has overtaken the economy as the third biggest concern.

Four out of five respondents agree that previous generations haven’t protected the planet and that the responsibility is on their generation to make things right. Nearly the same number believe it is important for New Zealand to grow and market food that is organic and GE free.

Three out of four believe that what they do at a personal and local level makes a real difference for future generations.

Compared to 2011, when 63% of respondents said they want to work for a sustainable company, 70% say so now. Last year, 52% of respondents said the biggest single problem facing the world today is climate change; this year the figure grew to 56%.


“These attitudes are increasingly influencing consumers’ purchasing behaviour,” says Ms Ireland.

“It’s not just about being green. We are entering a purpose-led age where confident and empowered consumers are taking control.”

90% of respondents said their choice of product in at least one category was influenced by sustainability, up from 87% in 2011/12.

“Nearly two thirds of consumers will pay a bit more to ensure their products are sustainable, while more than two in five say they are willing to pay whatever it costs to get the best sustainable products.”

The research shows that 72% of consumers currently buy organic food (up from 59% in 2011), 83% buy eco-friendly cleaning products and 79% buy fair trade products. In tandem with this, three out of four people born after 1960 say they grow their own fruit and vegetables, while 68% make their own compost.

Implications for business

“Despite their clear concern for a better future, just under two thirds of people could not name a leader in sustainability. There are many businesses doing great things in this area, but that message is failing to get through to consumers, and that’s a lost opportunity to connect your brand with what your customers truly value,” says Ms Ireland.

“The new generation of consumers care about their impact on the future, and they’re looking for brands and organisations that do too. For business, sustainability is a branding challenge, and one that promises reward. Meaningfully different brands grow their value faster and longer.

She says sustainability should not be an inward focussed department for businesses; it needs to work closely with brand and marketing so that the values and purpose of the organisation are part of the brand story that is communicated to the market.

“Businesses should define the shared value that connects the meaning of their brand and purpose with the needs of their customers. Our research suggests this is a territory that is rich with opportunity.”

Colmar Brunton has been running the Better Business research annually for six years. The findings are based on an online survey of 1,000 New Zealanders representing the national spread of age, gender and region and has a margin of error of + or – 3.1%.

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