Consumers, Brands and Climate Change 2008

United Kingdom version
Reading time: 10 minutes
31 October 2008

Our research, with 1,000 people in each of the UK, U.S. and China, confirms an increasingly receptive market interested in what companies are doing to tackle climate change and still eager for them to do more. In the U.S. and UK, where we have year-on-year data, consumer commitment is rising significantly, and rejecters are a declining minority. An increasing majority are engaged campaigners and optimists, segments united in their common commitment to making changes to their lifestyle to help reduce climate change, but divided by their differing desires for rational and emotional benefits from doing so.

When asked to compare, consumers in all three markets rate climate change a lower concern than the global economy, but this is a false choice. They do not see the two as competing issues. The majority (53% in the UK, 63% in the U.S., 46% in China) think combating climate change will benefit the economy, while only 22%, 23% and 26% respectively think it will have a negative impact; and 58%, 52% and 67% believe that combating climate change will not personally cost them money. In any case, more prefer to contribute by changing their behaviour and by spending extra time, than by spending extra money - a ranking consistent in every country and segment where we have conducted simil commitment to personally do something about climate change by making a significant effort in how they live their lives today is up 9%pts to 24% in the UK, and 8%pts to 21% in the U.S., despite 67% of people in the UK and 59% in the U.S. saying they feel financially worse off than last year.

Yet brands are not connecting well with this increasingly committed and diverse market. Most people - 66% in the UK and 65% in the U.S. - could not name a brand that they believe is taking the lead in tackling climate change, only a small improvement on last year (69% and 74% respectively). Among consumers who can identify at least one climate change brand leader, the picture is surprisingly consistent with last year. Consumers continue to be willing to give credit to perceived leaders from Big Retail and Big Energy in the UK, and Big Manufacturing in the U.S. and China - sectors that can all make a massive impact, directly or indirectly, on carbon emissions - if those brand leaders can demonstrate and meaningful stance on climate change. Tesco heads the UK's ranking for the second year running. GE retains top spot in the U.S., and Haier leads the new Chinese research. As a result, consumer The products, services and corporate stances most favored by consumers are not always those they believe to be most effective in tackling climate change. Brands seeking to build greater connections with consumers on this issue will therefore need to consider carefully how they can have the greatest impact: promote 'big' all encompassing initiatives, or focus on tangible initiatives that consumers are ready to respond to today. In the UK, M&S' 'Plan A' is clearly succeeding with the first approach, and British Gas' focus on energy efficiency with the second. There is more than one answer, and it will be unique for every individual brand.

Consumers can be very sensitive to what others say about a brand, and particularly negative press criticism if claims are exposed as 'greenwash'. However, the reverse is also true: reading that a company was "a member of a campaign run by an independent charity, which gives people easy ways to fight climate change in their everyday lives" (based on The Climate Group's growing 'Together' campaign) lifted likelihood to buy or use a product or service by an average of 5%pts across the three markets. Whichever route a brand decides to take, it must make sure the positioning is sustainable from the brand's own perspective.

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