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Unilever research: Greenwashing fears thwart sustainability messaging among influencers

Unilever aims to shift the narrative on sustainability in influencer content. While research indicates that influencers wish to discuss sustainability more, many hesitate to do so. Unilever is taking steps to encourage and empower influencers to incorporate sustainability themes into their content.

Influencers and content creators have profoundly impacted marketing, with a surge in consumer purchases driven by recommendations on social media. Unilever's digital advertising spend currently stands at approximately 50%. However, this figure can vary significantly by market and hinges on a brand's specific purpose, explains Sukru Dincer, Global Head of Digital, Sustainable Choices at Unilever.

“We are spending more in areas such as influencer marketing, digital commerce, retail media, streaming and gaming,” said Sukru.

Unilever's recent research indicates that a significant majority of content creators (60%) express a desire to contribute positively to the environment. While promoting eco-friendly products and services is an effective means to do so, a striking 84% of creators are hesitant to incorporate sustainability more prominently into their content. This suggests a potential gap between intent and execution in addressing environmental concerns through influencer marketing.

The impact of influencer marketing on consumer behaviour is substantial. A 2019 survey spanning several countries found that 41% of socially engaged consumers had discovered new brands and products through influencers, with a significant 80% making direct purchases via provided links. Since then, the influencer marketing market has seen remarkable growth, currently estimated at a record $21.1 billion (€19.8 billion) according to Statista, more than doubling its size since 2019. This demonstrates the escalating significance of influencers in shaping consumer preferences and purchasing decisions.

Greenwashing Concerns: The Key Obstacle to Sustainable Influencer Content:

A ground breaking study conducted by Ipsos, involving 232 content creators across YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram in the UK, US, Brazil, and the Philippines, sheds light on the surge of sustainability content. Nearly 63% of creators reported an increase in sustainability content creation compared to the previous year, with 76% expressing a desire to create even more in the future.

However, barriers exist. The foremost challenge, cited by 38%, is the fear of greenwashing. Additional hurdles include the difficulty in transitioning from their core content to sustainability, the evolving definition of sustainability, and a perceived lack of knowledge about key sustainability issues, each mentioned by 21% of respondents. Additionally, 18% expressed concerns about potential backlash or cancellation.

These fears are grounded in reality, as greenwashing practices face increasing scrutiny from policymakers, prompting the European Commission to propose stringent criteria against misleading environmental claims earlier this year.

Shunning Products Tied to Greenwashing: Consumer Trends:

As it turns out, this research from KPMG UK underscores the significant impact that greenwashing can have on consumer behaviour. It reveals that a substantial majority of consumers (54%) would take a strong stance against a company found to be deceptive in their sustainability claims. This demonstrates a growing awareness and concern among consumers regarding the authenticity of environmental claims made by businesses. It also emphasizes the importance for companies to uphold transparency and integrity in their sustainability efforts to maintain consumer trust and loyalty.

It's particularly noteworthy that these findings are recent, having been published on September 18th. This demonstrates the timeliness and relevance of the research, indicating that consumer sentiment towards greenwashing is current and likely to influence purchasing decisions in the present landscape. Additionally, the fact that 45% of surveyed UK adults are familiar with the term 'greenwashing' indicates a notable level of awareness about this issue among the general public. This suggests that consumers are increasingly vigilant about discerning genuine sustainability efforts from potentially misleading claims.

18% of respondents have already taken action by changing their opinions about a company due to perceived misleading green claims, a phenomenon often referred to as 'voting with their feet.'

Moreover, over half (54%) of consumers indicated that they would cease purchasing products and services from companies found to be engaged in greenwashing, while 38% expressed their intention to discontinue investments in such companies. The energy sector was identified as the highest perceived risk for greenwashing, with 58% of respondents expressing concern, followed closely by the fashion industry at 57%.

Additionally, the transport and automotive sector (51%), as well as the grocery, food, and agriculture sector (47%), were considered vulnerable to greenwashing by a significant number of consumers. These findings highlight a clear consumer preference for sustainable products, with two-thirds (67%) actively seeking out eco-friendly options for the products and services they purchase.

Richard Andrews, Head of ESG at KPMG UK, emphasized the critical importance of avoiding greenwashing, as any indication of deceptive sustainability claims can erode consumer trust. He stressed the necessity for companies to substantiate their claims and to ensure compliance with emerging regulations.

“The risks of overselling being ‘greener than green’ are too high.”

New Framework in Development for Alignment with Cutting-Edge Climate Science:

KPMG's research highlights a significant lack of consumer awareness regarding sustainability labelling. Only 9% of respondents were familiar with the carbon reduction label, and merely 10% recognized the B Corp label. This low level of awareness extends to influencers, with Unilever's study revealing that 58% of respondents expressed confusion about sustainability and environmental labels.

The research also showed that an overwhelming majority, 91%, expressed a desire for guidance in this area. Specifically, they expressed interest in access to resources for sustainable living, direct assistance for questions related to sustainability briefs, support in managing audience comments, and training on how to make credible statements about the environment. Unilever aims to address this need by collaborating with a variety of sustainability experts to form a coalition dedicated to assisting content creators in effectively communicating their sustainability messages.

Members of this coalition include Count Us In, a group focused on carbon reduction, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Rare, an organization dedicated to conservation and development, Futerra Solutions Union, which emphasizes advertising transparency, and a community of social media content creators united under the newly established Creator Council.

'We know that sustainability content on social media has the potential to drive more sustainable behaviours, with over three quarters of consumers claiming influencers have the biggest impact on their green choices today. But it needs to be informative and meaningful content.” ?stated Rebecca Marmot, Unilever’s chief sustainability officer.

The coalition aims to collaboratively develop an industry-wide 'digital solution' to expedite the creation of precise and impactful sustainability content. This solution will be shaped by scientific insights and behaviour change theories with the goal of promoting more eco-conscious behaviours.

“Partners are currently developing a framework and guidelines to ensure the solutions are in line with the very latest climate science,” ?commented Unilever.