Consumers Care About Buying From Socially Responsible Brands Now More Than Ever

How a company treats its employees and the environment are becoming bigger and bigger concerns for shoppers in the checkout aisle—and they want that information to be easy to find and verify.

There will always be a segment of consumers who religiously buy products from socially-responsible companies—toilet paper from Seventh Generation, shoes from Timberland, jackets from Patagonia, ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s, and so on. But more and more, these socially-responsible shoppers are in the mainstream. A recent survey from marketing agency Good.Must.Grow (GMG) found that most Americans care about buying products from companies that do good in the world.

GMG’s survey of 1,015 Americans yielded some fascinating, but not entirely surprising, statistics: 30% of respondents said that they expect to increase the amount of goods and services they buy from socially-responsible companies over the next year (last year, that number was 18%), and 60% of people said that buying goods from socially-responsible companies is important to them. But just 21% (the same percentage as last year) said that they will increase charitable donations in the coming year—an indication that responsible purchasing is serving as something of a stand-in for charity.

Treatment of employees is the biggest factor (45%) when people decide how responsible a company is. Environmental impact follows close behind (38%). Transparency, corporate oversight, and impact on society are also important factors.

Companies shouldn’t think that the trend towards socially-responsible purchasing means that they can just claim that their products are "green" and call it a day. According to the survey, 63% of people trust company claims about social responsibility only sometimes—when they do verify information, it’s often by reading product packaging, checking out the news, and doing independent research.

This skepticism holds true especially for large corporations that own brands that tout their social responsibility (think Kashi and parent brand Kellogg). In a survey conducted by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research last year, 56% of respondents said they would think twice about buying a product if they couldn’t find information about the larger corporation behind it. One out of six U.S. consumers claimed that they would avoid a product entirely if they didn’t like the parent company.

For most companies, these statistics are incredibly important: they signal a sea change in what consumers care about. In the future, it will become ever more difficult to be a successful company without paying attention to social responsibility. There are exceptions—ask most people if they’d ditch their iPhone as a result of poor labor practices, and they’ll admit that they won’t. Even so, Apple is making strides with its environmental and labor policies. This is a trend that can’t be ignored.

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  • Jim

    Ariel, I absolutely love the research stats, but wonder if there is ANY actual sales data to support these findings.  In other words, are consumers actually walking the walk?  So 3 out of 10 consumers say they "expect" to "increase", but what does that really mean?  At the end of the day, efficacy, performance, price and brand loyalty appear to be trumping social responsibility.  I suspect that when the P&Gs of the world begin marketing environmentally friendly products that clean and shine as well as traditional products AND cost the same, consumers will make the conversion.  Until then, only the dedicated fringe will take the plunge.

  • David Connor

    Also, here's an interesting 2012 report on ethical consumer activity in the UK from The Co-Operative group:


    Almost all segments are showing growth, even through tougher economic times restricting disposable income spend - not what was supposed to happen according to the naysayers.

  • Ryan Steinbach

    While these are exciting statistics there is, unfortunately, a huge gap between what people say and what people actually do when it comes to conscious consumerism. It isn't so much that people are lying. We just a have a long way to go when it comes to widespread, accessible, and accurate data on products.

  • David Connor

    The trend is positive, if a little slow for those of us that care.

    We need a re-ignition of leadership beyond the usual suspects to drive consumer awareness and acceleration genuine mainstream adoption of sustainability / CSR principles. 

    I wonder how close we are to the point where more companies than not are understanding and employing this agenda? Probably, and frustratingly, still a long way to go.

  • Good.Must.Grow. (Heath Shackle

    Hi David, yes I'd say there are still too many companies that don't fully embrace this agenda, but it's very nice to see this momentum from consumers. As Ryan accurately points out, there still is a gap between attitudes and actions, which allows many to pay lip service only to a higher purpose. 

    There's still much work to be done for sure, but these findings indicate the environment is ripe for positive change. We just have to keep consumers and corporations (and government) engaged in the discussion. Like any major movement, or even modest shift in behavior (think littering), this will take time. But I think we're on the right path. In the meantime, those of us who lead social enterprises have to keep fanning the flames, delighting customers and innovating at all costs.