Step up to stand out: the green purpose premium

When it comes to net zero, the opportunity for businesses getting it right mirrors the risk for all of us of getting it wrong. But new research from Brands2Life shows that the opportunities for business may be much greater than first thought.

Every week we see another example of a brand paying the price when it comes to getting it wrong on sustainability and net zero. Increasing levels of scepticism from regulators and consumers can bring about a purpose paralysis, resulting in a reticence to engage for fear of being accused of jumping on the green band wagon. Brands2Life research conducted by Opinium from October this year found that almost half (43%) of consumers think businesses communicating about reaching net zero is simply ‘greenwashing’ – that’s a tough audience to convince by any measure.

And criticism, when it comes, can be swift and stinging, forcing brands to issue retractions and clarifications. More than a reputational risk however, our research suggests consumers won’t simply turn to social media to vent their frustrations, they’re willing to act. Half of those we spoke to would sign a petition calling out a brand and one in three (35%) were willing to boycott a brand or product if they knew they hadn’t kept their net zero commitments.

The rub? Scrutiny and skepticism are only matched with expectation. Our research found that 65% believe businesses need to do more to mitigate their environmental footprint, over and above simply committing to net zero.

With such high stakes in a new age for social activism, it’s no surprise brands are cautious about entering the fray. Yet with climate change dramatically changing the world around us, wavering on the biggest challenge of our generation simply isn’t a choice. People and our planet demand it.

Our research also found that far from a zero-sum game, the benefits of getting it right extend further than we may have previously thought. We already know that companies with better ESG profiles are performing better and attracting investment from investors preparing their portfolios for a net zero world, according to BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink. But with issues around attracting and retaining the best talent and cutting through the noise for the attention of sceptical consumer audiences, the cause of such consternation may also be the solution.

Increased consumer loyalty and a potential purpose premium are widely seen to be incentives of a strong environmental stance. This was confirmed by our research with 43% of the people we spoke to saying they are more likely to choose a product if they know the brand has a strong stance on net zero, 34% would be willing to pay more for it. But in addition to this, brands who successfully communicate their net zero ambitions may also be in line for a further, unexpected dividend on their environmental investment, in the form of business’s most valuable asset, their people.

Over a third (37%) of those we spoke to were more likely to apply for a job at a company that they know has a strong stance on net zero and environmental issues, and this rises significantly within millennial and gen z audiences, with 56% of those aged 18–34 favouring jobs with green employers.

The takeaway? The fact is, demand from all quarters for those who can tangibly and authentically demonstrate action on climate change isn’t going away, so here are our top three takeaways when considering an approach that truly resonates:

  1. Be humble – Consumer instinct for authenticity is a powerful leveler. Be honest and open about your ambitions and what is driving your purpose.
  2. Be jargon-free – Littering communications with “scopes and SDGs” only go to add to background skepticism of brands greenwashing. Clear and concise, linked transparently to measurable goals is the way forward.
  3. Be selfless – Consumers want you to tackle the issue, not be fed corporate marketing. Working in coalition with other brands or by offering your voice to those affected by climate change, purpose and people should be at the heart of your intervention.

 To find out more about our research, or our services around ESG advisory and purpose communications, get in touch with ethan.spibey@brands2life.com.