New Study Shows Gap Between Real and Perceived Sustainability

There is a disparity between real and perceived action on climate change by top North American brands, according to a consumer study titled, MapChange 2010. The study measured climate change action by over 90 North American companies, and measured consumer perception of those actions. The study covered 10 sectors including food and beverage, apparel, household products, internet/software/media, electronics, airlines, hotels, food services, consumer shipping and banks.

Change, a green brand innovation agency, collaborated with Climate Counts, a nonprofit organization that rates corporations on climate change actions, and the research firm Angus Reid to do the study.  Climate Counts provided the scoring on climate change action based on 22 criteria, and Angus Reid measured consumer perception based on survey results of 2,000 American adults.

General Mills, Kraft and Kellog all have perception scores of 79 or higher, but actual scores of 58 or below. However, some companies have higher actual scores than perception scores. For instance, SAB Miller has a perception score of only 14, but an actual score of 44. Unilever has a perception score of 32, but an actual score of 79. Groupe Danone has a perception score of 33, but an actual score of 64.

Some sectors lead in climate change action, while others lag behind.. Shipping brands all have actual scores above 55. All airline brands have actual scores below 50. Other companies improved their actual scores from 2008. All 12 companies in the electronics sector and four companies in the consumer shipping sector have actual scores of 50 or higher for the first time.

The study suggests that an increase in perceived scores could be caused by:

  • Improved/increased brand communications about sustainability initiatives
  • Increased consumer-facing sustainable products
  • Heightened consumer and media interest in sustainable brands

However, low perception scores “suggests that the corporation’s sustainability activity might not be consumer-facing, or that the activity might be focused in areas outside of the products or services being produced,” according to the study.

“The results are very surprising,” said Mark Stoiber, Creative Director and President of Change. “Some companies that do a lot, as far as sustainability, are not getting their fair share of credit from consumers. And some companies that are not doing nearly enough are getting a lot of credit.”

The 5 C’s of Sustainability Branding

What can companies with low perception scores, but high actual scores do to improve consumer perception? One thing companies can do is think about ‘The 5 C’s of Sustainability Branding,’ created by Climate Counts. The 5 C’s outline what brand sustainability must be in order to succeed:

  1. Competitive—Keep in mind that brands must innovate in order to compete, and the best new innovations tend to be sustainable.
  2. Consumer-facing—Make new sustainability initiatives something the consumer will see.
  3. Core—Tie sustainability to a brand’s core business to ensure it resonates with consumers.
  4. Conversational—Realize that sustainability branding is more effective as a two-way conversation rather than one-way communication.
  5. Credible—Make sure sustainability efforts are in place and measurable before announcing them.
Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by