UK lags behind emerging markets in consumer attitudes to sustainability, Unilever study finds

Just over half of shoppers in the UK feel better when they buy sustainably made products, a Unilever study has found - a far lower proportion than in India, Brazil and Turkey.

Ben & Jerry's: one of the Unilever brands putting sustainability at the heart of its brand identity
Ben & Jerry's: one of the Unilever brands putting sustainability at the heart of its brand identity

The study asked 20,000 adults across five large countries how concerns around sustainability affected their decisions around shopping and product use.

While only 53% of those in the UK said they felt better about buying sustainable products, the vast majority said so in India (88%), Brazil (85%) and Turkey (85%) – while in the US, the figure was 78%.

The report suggests that the difference in these figures may be explained by the direct exposure of people in emerging markets to the negative consequences of unsustainable business practices, such as water and energy shortages, air pollution and food poverty – as well as differing social norms.

Across the five markets, a third (33%) of respondents said they were actively choosing to buy from brands that they believed were doing environmental or social good, while a fifth (21%) said they would be more likely to pick brands that made their sustainability credentials clear on their packaging and in their marketing.

Unilever claimed that the latter figure represented an untapped opportunity of €966bn (£817bn) in sales of sustainable goods, pointing out that its own brands that have "integrated sustainability into both their purpose and products", such as Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and Hellmann’s, are growing 30% faster than the rest of the business.

Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, said: "This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, the very opposite is true.

"To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability.

"Instead, they must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines."

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