Cultures, Countries & Your Sustainability Story

by Nov 7, 2023

Shelton Stat of the Week

61% of people around the world say buying/using eco-friendly products is an important part of their personal image. — Eco Pulse®, 2023 (Global)

​Seventeen years ago, Shelton Group launched our first Eco Pulse® and Energy Pulse® consumer insights studies in the U.S. We’ve been surveying Americans every year since. I’m thrilled that now, as part of ERM, we’ve gone global! I’ve been pulling from our global research findings for several recent blog posts and presentations, but today we’re launching our first full report based on surveying consumers in 12 different countries.

In each country, we asked people what makes someone “eco-friendly” with the goal of finding out how local values should influence companies’ sustainability communications. Because if your company operates and sells in the U.S, Brazil, the UK and China, your words can easily be translated from English to Portuguese and Mandarin. But that doesn’t mean your sustainability story will resonate in the countries and cultures where these languages are spoken. The words you use are important (our U.S.-based Buzz on Buzzwords report demonstrates why), but a story is more than words. What you choose to highlight, what you choose not to talk about, and how you connect with your audience’s specific values and real-life concerns … that’s all part of building your story.

Our research unearthed two distinct patterns of sustainability care-abouts that will guide your sustainability story in the countries we surveyed and help you predict effective ways to tell your story in countries we haven’t yet surveyed. I’ll paint them with broad strokes here — download the free report to get all the details.

Pattern #1: In the report, we use more technical terminology grounded in cross-cultural psychology to refer to these patterns. But the gist of the first pattern highlights countries and cultures that are more individualist, less hierarchical, attempt to distribute power more evenly and feel there are channels to influence the status quo. The U.S., Australia, the UK, Canada and Germany consistently exhibit this pattern, and Poland, Spain and Brazil sometimes do. In these countries …

  • Recycling is the defining behavior for an eco-friendly person. No surprise there. And the hurdle for storytelling across these countries, like we’ve been seeing in the U.S., is crumbling consumer confidence in the recycling system. So recycling does need to be a central part of your story in these countries — but, like I’ve been saying for a while, it can’t be the only part. Large majorities of consumers in these countries are also interested in hearing about your greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts, so there’s a great opportunity to tie together recycling and climate action.
  • Inflation is consumers’ top concern for the future. Inflation ranked higher than plastic waste or climate change — it’s the worry that hits closest to home right now. But there’s a connection between the economic and the environmental that brands can lean into here. The majority of consumers in these countries still say they’re searching for more energy-efficient, natural and eco-friendly products. Speak to consumers’ concern about inflation by highlighting economic benefits of your products — how does your product save energy and thus money? Or how does your high-quality, sustainably sourced product last longer and thus decrease lifetime costs?

Pattern #2: Countries and cultures that fit this pattern are generally collectivist societies. They’re more likely to define their self-image in terms of “we” than “I.” At the same time, there’s typically more hierarchy in personal, political and economic power structures — in other words, greater distance between people at the top and people perceived to be at the bottom. We see this pattern consistently in the UAE, India, China and Nigeria, and sometimes in Poland, Spain and Brazil. In these countries …

  • Purchasing eco-friendly products is the defining behavior of an eco-friendly person. In the U.S., only 44% say using eco-friendly products is an important part of their personal image. That percentage jumps to 70% in Brazil, 79% in China and a whopping 92% in India. Brands, you need to demonstrate how your products empower consumers to be eco-friendly — and to be seen as eco-friendly. If your own brand image doesn’t reflect your commitment to sustainability, you’ll have a harder time convincing consumers that you can help them shape their sustainable image.
  • Visible, tangible environmental damage — including air and water pollution, plastic waste and deforestation — is consumers’ top concern for the future. Specifically, the damage they’re most worried about is what’s literally right outside their doors: people in the UAE are most concerned about water pollution and shortages, for instance, and in Brazil, people are thinking about water pollution and deforestation. And this environmental damage is directly related to climate change, as a contributor or as an effect. Brands need to start their story, then, with how their eco-friendly products help someone live a sustainable lifestyle — and highlight benefits that counteract the scary possibilities of a home without clean water and enough food, with dirty air and extreme weather. And the companies behind the brands need to clearly communicate about their actions to directly address the environmental damage people in those countries are seeing daily and are, therefore, worried about.

So, where are you telling your story? And, are you telling it in ways that will connect with those cultures and audiences? Brands need to get this right and do it without greenwashing!

Our free report includes all the country-specific details and how to apply them to your brand’s sustainability storytelling. I hope you’ll take a look, then give us a shout with questions or ideas. Happy reading!

News of the Week
What makes people act on climate change, according to behavioral science
What makes people act on climate change, according to behavioral science
Scientific American

While it’s important to understand what people across cultures and countries value environmentally, it’s just as important to identify what makes them act on these feelings. This Scientific American article discusses the top behavioral motivations that drive climate change action.

Read more…

Sustainability and safety: A catalyst for cultural transformation

Sustainability and safety: A catalyst for cultural transformation

We took a global approach for our study, but the internal cultures and backgrounds within businesses are just as important to take into consideration. This Forbes article discusses how to rally employees behind a business’ sustainability initiatives.

Read more…

Cultures, Countries & Your Sustainability Story

Our annual Eco Pulse® study has gone global. We surveyed people in 12 countries to better understand how they conceptualize an eco-friendly person — and what that means for companies’ sustainability communications. Our latest free report reveals how local cultural values connect to local sustainability concerns and provides specific communications guidance for brands operating and/or selling around the globe.

Hint: Multi-national brands, you don’t want to miss your opportunity to connect on a deeper level with your audiences.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.