An international study by Unilever involving 20,000 adults across five countries, shows that one-third (33%) of consumers now choose to purchase from brands based on their social and environmental impact.  Project Extraordinary aims to help shift this trajectory even higher, to 50% global consumer (or 1 billion consumers) in developed and emerging countries purchasing with purposefulness by 2020.


The findings of Unilever’s 2016/17 study seeking to identify the degree to which sustainability values directly influencing consumer behaviour, reveal an extraordinary opportunity for companies that get it right. Twenty-one percentage of surveyed participants said they would actively choose brands if their sustainability credentials were clearer on their packaging and in their marketing.

Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer says, “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.”

As well as confirming consumers’ rising and 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.

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.


The emergence of purchasing based on sustainability credentials is further highlighted in Accenture’s From marketing to mattering study (2014).  Key findings from this study reveal:

72% consumers globally say business is failing to take care of the planet and society as a whole. However, in economies with a large, emerging middle-class, people are less sceptical and public confidence is significantly greater: two-thirds of respondents in India, for example, believe that business is playing its part.

People think business is as accountable as governments for improving their lives. Whether optimistic (Asia, Africa, and Latin America) or despondent about the future (Western Europe and North American markets) people expect brands and companies to impact positively on their lives.

Consumer consideration of sustainability factors in their purchasing decisions. Countries where respondents are optimistic, and express high expectations of business, are also more likely to consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions and actively seek information on sustainability performance.