Are attitudes to Sustainability, Climate, and Carbon Offsetting changing?

Andrea Abrahams, is the global director of BP Target Neutral.


I recently attended the ‘Responsible Business Summit Europe’. Amongst the audience of FTSE 100 Sustainability Directors, NGO’s, consultants and government officials was a feeling that although the US has announced it is leaving the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, they remain committed. Much of this sentiment was driven by the new reality that this is what consumers and investors now demand.

Groups such as representing a $6.2 trillion coalition of US business, educational institutions and local government bodies have openly stated their ongoing commitment to the Paris Agreement whilst Paul Polman the CEO of Unilever indicated that the global business community might now ‘move faster’ than they would have otherwise and act as a catalyst to drive progress1.

Over the last few years business appears to have moved towards a consensus on sustainability. For example, nine out of ten CEOs2 say the UN Sustainable Development Goals represent an essential opportunity to re-think approaches to sustainability, and nearly half say business will be the most important actor in their delivery. New generations of consumers, better informed through technology, are changing their expectations of business. Sustainability will be much more about creating a clear link to the products and services that businesses provide rather than relying only upon more traditional approaches of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility.

Recent global surveys of consumers3 have reported that significant and growing numbers would purchase a product or service if they believed it benefitted society and the environment (or had a more positive environmental impact), and that many were prepared to pay a premium to obtain it4.

The Nielsen study noted:

“It’s no longer just wealthy suburbanites in major markets willing to open their wallets for sustainable offerings. Consumers across regions, income levels, and categories are willing to pay more if doing so ensures they remain loyal to their values.”

For increasing numbers of businesses, demonstrating commitment to sustainability has become a pre-requisite for market entry and it is increasingly forming part of companies’ brand and marketing strategies. These companies seek to anticipate and manage increasing environmental regulation and resource costs and to seize opportunities for growth arising from new sustainable market opportunities. One example is Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands portfolio which has integrated sustainability into both their purpose and products. According to the company5, this portfolio delivered nearly half of Unilever’s overall growth in 2015, and grew 30 percent faster than the rest of its business.

Yet there are significant hurdles to overcome. If CEO’s get it, why don’t consumers believe it?

A survey of 30,000 consumers in Western Europe and the United States, found that fewer than 20% of consumers express their confidence in companies’ efforts to take care of the planet and society6 – although the research showed that in developing economies people are less sceptical and public confidence is significantly greater.

The study, carried out by Accenture summarised:

“Companies are missing an opportunity to frame sustainability in terms of their positive impact on the health, wealth, and livelihoods of their customers and the communities in which they operate, and demonstrating their real, tangible impact. Moreover, consumers expect more from their expenditures than the acquisition of products and services – and this is affecting their perception that companies are failing to meet their expectations.”7

The Accenture study indicates that consumers appear to be frustrated by an inability to easily identify more responsible brands, and they will only incorporate sustainability factors more into their purchasing decisions where they can identify and trust the impact that their purchase has on local and global challenges.

One way of doing this is by implementing a comprehensive and rigorous carbon management strategy which provides businesses with an opportunity to firmly connect their product or service to measurable sustainability benefits.

This is what we are trying to do at BP Target Neutral; providing a trusted mechanism by which businesses can demonstrate their products and services are having real, measurable impact on the issues of sustainability and the climate challenge, and are incorporating this aspect into their marketing and branding. We are working with the likes of Fedex, the International Paralympic Committee and BP businesses like Castrol to help them develop Carbon Neutral products or offset some of their operational emissions.

It’s clear that awareness of and attitudes towards sustainability, the climate challenge and carbon offsetting are changing. There is still a lot of work to be done but it’s encouraging that in 2017 we’re seeing many more businesses opening the door to new opportunities allowing them to target top-line growth, efficiency and brand enhancement – with measurable and lasting impacts on local and global sustainability challenges.

  1. Unilever CEO: Trumps abandonment of paris accord may accelerate companies plans to go green
  2. CEO Study on Sustainability – UN Global Compact-Accenture, 2014 – Survey of 1,000 CEOs.
  3. Global Consumer Sustainability Study, Unilever, 2016: 20,000 adults across Brazil, India, Turkey, UK, US
  4. The Sustainability Imperative, Nielsen, 2015 survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries
  5. Sustainable living brands leading Unilever growth
  6. UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, 2014 – 30,000 consumers worldwide give their views on their quality of life, expectations on business and governments, and attitudes towards sustainable brands
  7. UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, 2014 – 30,000 consumers worldwide give their views on their quality of life, expectations on business and governments, and attitudes towards sustainable brands