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Which brands do Australian consumers nominate as most sustainable, or environmentally responsible?

For nearly a decade, as part of our Living LOHAS research project, we’ve been tracking which brands Australians perceive to be the most sustainable, environmentally responsible or ethical.

Why is this important? Australian brands have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade on initiatives aimed at convincing consumers that they’re tackling a range of sustainability and ethical issues. Some of the biggest examples include BP’s massive solar energy campaigns from the mid 2000’s, Westpac’s highly advertised support for the Equator Principles, and retailer responses to supply chain labour issues in the garment industry.

In the background, a series of other brands have continued to support a whole-of-business approach that incorporates specific social or environmental platforms as a core of their operating model.

The question is, "Have these investment made any of these brands 'famous' for their sustainable or ethical business practices?"

In our latest survey of over 2,000 Australian adults, respondents identified, via unprompted recall, 420 brands and/or organisations that they believe have strong reputations for operating in a responsible, sustainable, environmentally friendly or ethical manner.   Of these brands, only 35% received more than a single mention.

This reinforces the notion there is a large chasm in mainstream Australian consumer perceptions in respect of the organisations that are taking a high profile leadership role in this area – very few brands or firms can claim to be 'famous' on environmental, sustainability or ethical platforms at present.  

Which firms are doing well?

Dick Smith (the person, not the electronics store!), The Body Shop and Planet Ark have made the top 10 ranking each year since 2007. Origin Energy and Greenpeace have appeared in the top 10 every year since 2008, and Woolworths since 2009. Bendigo Bank, FairTrade and NAB all entered the top ten for the first time this year.

Why do they rate, whilst others have not?

Commitment, Credibility, Communication

These leading organisations tend to fall into one of two categories: Organisations with a fundament al, whole of enterprise sustainable or ethical proposition, and mainstream brands with specific community and/or environmental campaign or program.

These approaches can be contrasted by reference to the two banks in the top 10. Bendigo Bank’s community-based approach has been central to the organisation since its inception as a local, community-based building society, and it is the community-oriented nature of this organisation that is most frequently cited as the driver of its high ranking. Bendigo Bank could be categorised along with The Body Shop, Planet Ark, Sanitarium, FairTrade and Greenpeace as organisations established with a specific sustainable (broadly defined) or ethical objective in mind, and a whole of enterprise proposition.

NAB on the other hand provides an example a traditional enterprise with broad community engagement programs that drive significant consumer goodwill. Woolworths’ high ranking appears to also be driven by its community-based activities, whilst Origin Energy continues to reap the benefits of a multi-year investment in communicating a variety of sustainability-related programs.

The lesson?

All in the top 10 list have demonstrated a commitment to embedding responsibility or sustainability in their brand, have generated credibility through action in the eyes of the consumer, and have made a long-term commitment to communicating their activities to a mainstream audience.

Mobium’s Living LOHAS report series has tracked consumer sentiment and behaviour in the healthy and sustainable product markets for nearly a decade. For more information about the Living LOHAS report, go to www.lohas.com.au or  to find out more about our services, go to www.mobium.com.au


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