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Citizens disillusioned about progress on corporate sustainability, poll finds

Still, there is huge demand for sustainable products designed to meet customers' core needs.

sustainable product Plastic bottles in green grass.

Image via Shutterstock/Pinkasevich.

A major polling exercise has revealed widespread skepticism among consumers towards corporations' sustainability programs, as well as concern over whether products marketed as environmentally sustainable are guilty of "greenwash."

Interviews with 19,000 people in eight countries found that 70 percent of people are disillusioned about corporate progress towards sustainability goals and suspicious of potential greenwashing activity by businesses.

The research, published by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), found that sustainability is a major concern for citizens of the U.S., Germany, Italy, France, Japan, China, India and Brazil, with four out of five participants in the study reporting they considered sustainability when making day-to-day purchases.

But this heightened concern is not necessarily translating into action, according to the findings, which reveal that just 20 percent of consumers believe they can have a positive impact on the environment through their purchases.

Just 20% of consumers believe they can have a positive impact on the environment through their purchases.

Less than 7 percent of respondents, meanwhile, claimed they would be willing to pay a premium for sustainable products and services.

BCG said businesses could bridge this "sustainability gap" by ensuring their green products and services are more closely aligned with customers' core needs.

The consultancy stressed there is a significant market for sustainable products that align with customers' other needs, arguing the exercise had revealed that 20 to 43 percent of consumers are "high-potential silent stakeholders" — or people who could be persuaded to make sustainable choices if products and marketing messages are sufficiently compelling and credible.

Firms should aim to be agile when developing sustainable products and services, the consultancy advised, noting that the exercise had highlighted that consumers' preferences with regards to sustainability "vary widely" depending on what region of the world they were in.

For example, the exercise revealed that consumers in China were most preoccupied with sustainability for home care, skin care, cars, grocery retail and apparel, whereas consumers in Brazil were concerned about sustainability for PCs and tablets as well as home care and cars.

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