The Environment Today – The Customer’s Perspective

Most of us make small concessions for the environment every day, whether we realise it or not. Turning the lights off when we leave the house, bringing our own reusable bags to the supermarket, or even just donating old clothes to charity—all of these individual acts have a positive impact on the planet whilst minimally impacting our daily routines. But as consumers, when it comes to making decisions that might affect our bank balance or compromise convenience, we don’t always make the conscious choice, and that is largely due to lack of awareness about where our money goes and how we can make a difference.

We surveyed 20,525 everyday citizens about climate related issues from six different markets—Australia, USA, UK, China, South Africa, and Germany—and found there is an overwhelming desire to participate more and to understand how the average person can contribute to social and environmental sustainability.

An average of 86% of participants across all markets said they believe in global warming, with
South Africa demonstrating the most concern, and Germany the least. Across the board there is also a firm belief that the planet needs to be saved for future generations, and that we are not doing enough as individuals and communities to do so. Only 18% of those surveyed in Australia suggested we are doing enough, compared with 22% in the USA, 20.0% in UK, 21.7% in South Africa, and 33.66% in Germany. Interestingly, the biggest vote of confidence came from respondents in China, where 60.40% believe they are doing enough to help protect the planet for future generations despite being the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. Parents feel an onus to leave the planet in better shape for their children – “If something is not done quickly, our children will suffer far worse than we can imagine”, said an American Respondent.

When it comes to the biggest climate concerns respondents have for their country, four of the six markets surveyed listed cars/emissions and the use of plastics as a major concern. Although people are more likely to spend more on products with eco-friendly packaging, expense is driven by economies of scale, meaning the more unique the product, the more they are willing to pay. If the product is mass produced and for everyday use (dishwashing liquid, for example), consumers expect the pricing to be similar to competitors, regardless of its sustainable packaging. It’s up to the brand to find a way to make that work.

Similarly, although there was a common expression of concern around vehicle emissions, research shows that generally, people don’t want to give up the convenience of driving and don’t see their ceasing to own a car as the solution. Instead, their expectation lies with the automotive industry to provide drivers with an environmentally friendly vehicle that everyone can afford. As one UK respondent explains, ‘Ideas are great, but we need to find a better way to make them cheaper so everyone can get involved.’ Fittingly, petrol/fuel industries, manufacturers, and rubbish / garbage companies scored among the highest when asked which corporate sectors are most responsible for protecting the environment.

When asked which organisations, groups, or corporations are helping solve environmental issues, it’s obvious companies and brands need to do more than throw money at campaigns boasting about their CSR projects—because not a single company was named in any six markets. Instead, all countries bar China named Greenpeace as leading the charge. Yet, in a country like Germany, they actively name companies like Amazon and Siemens as contributing to their environmental concerns.

In Australia, airline Qantas is an example of a company missing the opportunity to genuinely leverage their good work.Asking customers to ‘Tick-the-Box’ and pay an extra $1 to carbon offset their flight without explaining the extent of Qantas’ environmental work leaves people feeling like it is an incremental profit line for the airline. If they educated customers on initiatives like their Future Planet program that provides a carbon offsetting solution for businesses including T2, KFC, and Australia Post, or their involvement in protecting the Great Barrier Reef and working with Indigenous communities to reduce wildfires in Western Australia, people would likely get on board.

Despite a growing concern about climate change in the past 12 months (59% increase in Australia, 49% in USA, 64% in both UK and China, 78% in South Africa, and 42% in Germany), COVID-19 lockdowns have caused a shift in people’s perceptions toward how well the environment can recover on its own from man-made problems. During 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reportedly declined significantly globally due to a halt in production as well as car and air travel, which also led to improved water and air quality, and even wildlife restoration in some cases. Early in the pandemic, images went viral of clear water in the Venice canals, and the meme ‘Nature Is Healing, We Are the Virus’ was born. Or, as a respondent in South Africa told us, “Covid gave nature a chance to almost return to normal.”

When it comes to government performance on climate issues, generally people are complacent, or approve only ‘a little’ of their government’s actions (22% of USA respondents said they ‘disapproved greatly’ of how their government is handling environmental issues, as opposed to 14% in Australia, 18.87% in South Africa, and only 2.9% in China). Confidence lies predominantly in the power of the people, with a genuine belief that when the average person gets involved, they can make things better at least ‘most of the time’. “I believe people should get together from all over the world and come up with an integrated solution” said one respondent from China.

What does this mean for advertisers? The public have been trained, by marketers, to believe that disposable products, lower prices and instant convenience matters. There is a clear disconnect between CSR and marketing departments within most organisations. Its time advertisers start genuinely educating consumers not just about what environmental work they do, but why that work is helping combat climate change and how the public can play an active role in the organisation’s desire to contribute to sustainable practices. It needs to be in a way that makes sense to the average person as the public needs to be engaged for any communications in this sector to resonate and provide real brand value.


Glenda Wynyard, Managing Director, Media Precinct

Source: Media Precinct online survey of 20,525 respondents aged 18+ years from Australia, South Africa, China, Germany, USA and UK.