People 'n' Issues

Consumers get socially conscious

June 28th, 2015
As people around the world become more aware of their environmental impact, products and companies must evolve, writes THOMAS VAN DER LINDE, LG’s General Business Manager.

The stereotype of the spacey tree hugger is well and truly dead. Today’s eco-bunny isn’t found chained to a tree, they’re your average young consumer who chooses to engage critically with the brands they consume.

According to BBMG, more than a third of the global population are ‘aspirationals’, who believe they have a responsibility to consumer brands that are good for the environment and society. That accounts for more than 2 billion consumers around the world.

What’s interesting about these surveys is that the most socially conscious consumers are found in emerging markets. A 2014 Nielsen study found that 63% of Africans feel they should buy socially responsible brands, compared to just 42% in North America and 40% in Europe.

Among consumers in developing nations, there is a generation gap between those willing to pay more for socially conscious brands. The study found so-called Millennials were much more agreeable to sustainability efforts than those 35 and above. Meanwhile, a second Nielsen survey entitled The Global Socially Conscious Consumer identified environmental sustainability as the leading concern among under 20s.

These attitudes are only set to become more prevalent as younger generations become an even greater percentage of consumers. Pertinently for companies, these consumers are not afraid to use their voices when it comes to causes they believe in. Lip service to environmental causes is not enough when anyone with access to a smartphone can fact check information and call brands out on social media.

Engaging with these socially conscious consumers isn’t easy, especially when it’s become positively trendy for brands to crow about their green credentials. In South Africa, just about every company of a certain size has a corporate social investment (CSI) strategy in place, leading to a natural wariness from consumers. The term “greenwashing” has been coined to disparage those companies that spend more money marketing how environmentally conscious they are than on actual efforts.

According to the Target Group Index, the largest single source brand survey in South Africa, local consumers are very willing to spend more money on socially conscious brands. They advise, however, that in order to win the hearts and minds of consumers, “marketers must be sure to get their green marketing messages aligned with consumer expectations.”

An appliance that’s been marketed as green but breaks down after six months is a good example of a misalignment. Another example would be a product that’s sustainably sourced but remains unaffordable to the target market.

Get the balance right and consumer loyalty will naturally follow. Woolworths, which recently embarked on a campaign with Pharrell Williams focused on sustainability, is one of South Africa’s most valuable brands. The brand has committed itself to ethical trade and sustainable production methods since 2007.

Today’s socially conscious consumer is a connected one, so it’s no surprise that the electronics industry is leading the way in consumer-first corporate sustainability practices. Companies like LG are making great strides in bringing long-lasting, energy efficient products to market. The majority of its products carry Energy Star ratings, a label that designates savings of $150 million in electricity costs over a product’s lifetime.

Nor are these efforts limited to the products themselves. The company has an e-waste programmes active around the world that seek to recycle electronic waste like old cell phones and discarded packaging. In the face of load shedding and electricity shortages, LG’s Switch-On campaign highlights energy-saving tips and educates consumers on what certain energy ratings mean.

As consumers choose to engage with brands such as these in increasing numbers, other companies have incentives to improve their own sustainability efforts. The socially conscious consumer is one with an enormous amount of power right now, and that can only be good news.

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