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Report shows a third of consumers prefer sustainable brands


Average read time: 5 minutes

London, UK – A new international study by Unilever reveals that a third of consumers (33%) are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

  • Unilever study reveals a third of consumers are now buying from brands based on their social and environmental impact
  • An estimated €966 billion opportunity exists for brands that make their sustainability credentials clear

The study asked 20,000 adults from five countries how their sustainability concerns impact their choices in-store and at home. Crucially, it then mapped their claims against real purchase decisions, giving a more accurate picture than ever of what people are actually buying – and why.

As well as confirming the public’s high expectations of brands when it comes to having a positive social and environmental impact, the study’s findings uncover an unprecedented opportunity for companies that get it right. More than one in five (21%) of the people surveyed said they would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. This represents a potential untapped opportunity of €966 billion out of a €2.5 trillion total market for sustainable goods.1

The scale of this opportunity is also further borne out by Unilever’s own financial performance. Of its hundreds of brands, those such as Dove, Hellmann’s and Ben & Jerry’s, that have integrated sustainability into both their purpose and products delivered nearly half the company’s global growth in 2015. Collectively, they are also growing 30% faster than the rest of the business.

The study also suggests that the trend for purpose-led purchasing is greater among consumers in emerging economies than in developed markets. While 53% of shoppers in the UK and 78% in the US say they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced, that number rises to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey.

Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer says: “This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, it has become an imperative. 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.”

The study identifies two probable reasons for consumers’ greater focus on sustainable purchasing in emerging economies compared to developed markets. First is direct exposure to the negative impact of unsustainable business practices, such as water and energy shortages, food poverty and poor air quality. And second is the power of social norms. So, while Brazilian, Indian and Turkish people feel pressure from their family, friends and even their children to buy greener, more socially responsible products, this sense of social scrutiny is currently less prevalent in the UK and US.


1 Brand Purpose: Fad or Future?, Europanel, 2016

Notes to Editors

Data was gathered on respondents’ general sustainability beliefs, category sustainability beliefs and their sustainable behaviours such as washing at lower temperatures and recycling at home.

The research was carried out in conjunction with Europanel and Flamingo.

The emergence of purchasing based on sustainability credentials is further supported by the From marketing to mattering study by Accenture and Havas Media Group. It found that consumers in emerging economies are more engaged on sustainability and expect companies’ good purpose efforts to benefit them directly.2

2 The Consumer Study: From marketing to mattering; Accenture and Havas Media Group 2014;

Sustainable Living Brands

A Sustainable Living brand is a brand that has integrated sustainability not only into its purpose – in other words its marketing platform – but also into its products.

This means:

  • defining a Purpose which takes action to make the world a better place in a way that's relevant to the brand, good for society and meaningful to the people who choose their products.
  • offering Products that contribute to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan goals, whether that involves improving health, wellbeing or nutrition, reducing environmental impacts or using sustainably sourced ingredients.

Unilever has developed a simple four-point framework to help capture the ways in which sustainability contributes to our success.

  • Driving growth - Sustainability is supporting growth by deepening brand equity, opening up new markets, such as the safe drinking water market, and inspiring innovation. Our Sustainable Living brands demonstrate this.
  • Lowering cost - By cutting waste and reducing use of energy, raw materials and natural resources, we create efficiencies and cut costs. Cost avoidance and savings ultimately help to improve our margins. Costs avoided through eco-production have exceeded €600 million since 2008. Our waste programme during this time has contributed to around €250m of costs avoided and created hundreds of jobs.
  • Reducing risk - Sustainable ways of doing business help us mitigate risk across our operations. Operating sustainably helps us to future proof our supply chain against the risks associated with climate change and long-term sourcing of raw materials, making us less exposed to the volatility of resource prices.
  • Building trust - Placing sustainability at the heart of our business model strengthens our relationships with stakeholders and helps us succeed as a business. It helps us maintain our value and relevance to consumers, whilst inspiring Unilever’s current and future employees. In 2015, we maintained our status as the Graduate Employer of Choice in the FMCG sector across 34 countries. We are the #1 FMCG on the Global LinkedIn Top Attractors List and #8 most sought company to work for in the LinkedIn Top Attractor List globally in 2016.
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