The broad strokes: Green issues are as popular as one might expect. More than three-quarters of U.S. adults say that they are concerned about the environment and/or climate change (76%) or that such issues are important to them (78%). They also demonstrate a keen sense of the environment being a pervasive topic, affecting and affected by a whole host of other occurrences. For example, among those who recognize the influence of such events, significant majorities expressed the belief that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (82%) and even the COVID-19 pandemic (68%) have had negative impacts on the environment. (They are almost certainly right about the war in Europe while the pandemic’s effect on the environment is somewhat more equivocal.)
Importantly, Americans believe that corporations have an outsize role in these issues: 80% believe that corporate sustainability efforts play an important part in combating climate change. And while the figure is smaller, a majority (57%) think that individuals have a less significant impact than companies can have on these issues.
Not only do big corporations have the standing to talk about the environment—it would behoove them to, as more than three-quarters of U.S. adults say that they would think more highly of brands that act to protect the environment. The question remains, however—how can companies maximize the return on their environmental efforts and messaging?
The survey produced three actionable takeaways:
Think globally, and act
Among messaging approaches companies can take to highlight their environmental activities, consumers have a preference for substantive action rather than more generic support. Majorities of respondents said that they are more likely to patronize brands whose ads talk about preventive measures they are undertaking to help the environment (recycling), reactive steps (planting trees and picking up litter) or pledging to work toward a waste-free or carbon-neutral future. On the other hand, ads that discuss the money a company donates to environmental causes or that talk about how humans are harming the environment perform less well, with only plurality support.
It makes sense: People instinctively understand environmentalism’s popularity, so they want to see words backed up with specific deeds. Merely writing a check to a green cause lacks the same impact.
Tell a positive story
Everyone knows we live in fraught times. The pandemic and the war in Europe, for example, bring huge societal stresses to bear entirely independent of their negative environmental repercussions. No one wants to be reminded of ongoing bad news in the advertisements they consume.
Spots that focus on the negative impacts humans are having on the environment were the least popular among the approaches we tested, with only 42% of respondents saying such messaging would make them more likely to shop for a certain brand (barely more than the 39% who said it would not make a difference). Such ads most frequently spurred the wrong reaction entirely, with nearly 1 in 5 Americans saying they would be less likely to support a brand that ran them.
Know your environmental audience
Generally, younger generations are more concerned about environmental issues. This likely owes to younger generations’ broader progressive tilt, but also to the fact that Earth Day had a revival and global expansion in 1990, meaning for Gen Xers (ages 42-57) and younger, it has been much more prominently celebrated annually.
Surprisingly, while Gen Z (ages 18-25) has a reputation for environmental activism, millennials (ages 26-41) may be more engaged. Compared to other generations, they more often say such issues are important (85%), that companies have a more significant impact than individuals (68%) and have an important role in combating climate change (83%). And they most frequently report thinking more highly of brands that acted to protect the environment (80%). They also responded more positively than other generations to the possible messaging lines. These 26-41s, in other words, are primed for effective green action and messaging.
Follow these guidelines in communicating your environmental story and your success will start to bloom.
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