Across the globe, businesses and consumers see sustainability buzzwords being used constantly– often too much and in places, they don’t apply. But how does this increased saturation of sustainability messaging affect what consumers want from brands?

We have recently looked at the regional consumer landscape and asked how people really feel about tech brands and their sustainability efforts; are they doing enough, do consumers feel greenwashed and do they actually pay attention to sustainability messaging?

The short answer is yes– consumers really do care about the action behind the message and within the tech space, this is particularly prominent.

However, according to a BBC Sustainability Study that was conducted earlier this year, no major consumer tech brand has been recognised as a leader in the sustainability space despite consumer demand for tech brands to step up.

In fact, 55 per cent of the consumers we asked were not even aware of technology brands’ sustainability portfolios.

According to the study, this signals a huge missed opportunity for consumer tech brands, as over 80 per cent of consumers plan to make a tech purchase within the year, and 84 per cent of consumers indicated that they would purchase from a brand that shows its commitment to sustainable practices.

Not only this, but they would pay more for it– 73 per cent of consumers indicated that they were more ready to buy “green/sustainable” products even if they cost a little bit more.

However, consumers are becoming savvier, more aware and critical of greenwashing, so brands need to demonstrate that they can walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

Also Read: COVID-19, the environment, and the tech ecosystem: what opportunity is available out there for us?

Based on our findings, the top sustainability priorities that APAC consumers want consumer tech brands to focus on include:

  • Understanding the need for sustainable efforts towards progress, however, that may look for your industry and business (65 per cent)
  • Partnering with suppliers who support sustainable practices (50 per cent)
  • Supporting communities that take up sustainable practices (46 per cent)

Furthermore, consumers are prioritising sustainability beyond the single lens of eco-friendly products. The study found that:

  • Eighty-two per cent are more careful to avoid purchasing products that potentially have a more harmful impact on the environment
  • Sixty-nine per cent feel that companies should reinvest in communities impacted by their businesses. For example, by planting new trees in areas impacted by deforestation, businesses will be protecting the natural resources from the adverse side effects of manufacturing for local communities
  • Eighty-three per cent feel that companies should focus on educating their customers on the importance of sustainability

As such, consumer technology players should ensure their products and services truly reduce their impact on the environment and this needs to be evaluated across the entire product range and operations.

For example, many eco-projects by larger oil companies are undermined when you look at the overall environmental impact of the brand across their entire operation.

Sustainability plans should also include reinvestment in local communities, and ensure that operations and manufacturing have an overall positive impact on the communities that support these processes.

For consumer electronics, the manufacturing process typically involves multiple vendors along the entire supply chain, and consumers are now more critical about companies ensuring that their own manufacturing, and their vendors, provide safe working conditions and improve the lives of people in the communities that they operate in.

Lastly, brands should be more proactive in educating customers about sustainability.

As mentioned above, 83 per cent of those surveyed would like brands to invest in educating consumers about the importance of sustainability, and there are so many avenues open to brands to do this including branded content, interviews with national media or sponsorship and advertising campaigns. And brands should be consciously encouraging their consumers to make more eco-friendly choices.

For example, more consumer electronics manufacturers are making it easier for customers to either trade-in or recycle old devices or reduce the amount of e-waste.

Building trust with consumers through responsible actions is critical but businesses need to ensure that they communicate these efforts to their audience in meaningful and effective ways. The first order of business is for a brand to communicate how it embeds sustainability into the core of its business.

Also Read: Life after COVID-19: How and why smart cities need to focus on sustainability

Consumers are alert to and wary of greenwashing and will call it out if they see sustainability messaging as an “add-on” or a one-off CSR initiative. Explaining how a brand embraces sustainability into the heart of its operations creates a positive and desired connection with the consumer.

Consumers also want to see progress and even if businesses are not fully formed with their sustainability action plans, it does not mean that a brand cannot communicate its goals and outline how it will operationalise its plans through tangible targets set to a timeline.

Vague or motherhood statements of sustainability only serve to open a brand up to accusations of greenwashing but by setting and communicating tangible targets or goals, brands demonstrate a real commitment to sustainability.

For example, some brands have communicated clear goals of reducing their carbon emissions by a certain year, and continue to maintain open communication with stakeholders by providing annual updates on their progress, underscoring their long-term commitment to sustainability.

Of course, getting this right takes time and the willingness to navigate the shifting nuances around sustainability. At the BBC, we have been on a steep learning curve, unpacking the complexities and nuances of how to build and tell authentic, credible brand stories on behalf of our advertisers.

We recognise that brands are often at different stages of the sustainability journey and there are challenges, including regulatory policies, that dictate what a brand can and cannot say. This underpins the importance of crafting accurate and tonally sensitive content, all of which is key to building consumer trust and maintaining accountability.

For all brands grappling with these challenges, we cannot emphasise enough the significance of being open and transparent with existing facts as they stand and to build from there.

While consumers are willing to accept that change cannot happen overnight, brands must fundamentally reappraise their holistic messaging framework around their sustainability efforts and initiatives.

It is really important for brands to acknowledge any sustainability shortcomings, as long as there is a commitment to work on changing these in the long run.

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Image credit: rabusta

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