Influencer Content Is Single Biggest Impact on Consumer Sustainability Choices, Unilever Finds

Liz Dominguez
Managing Editor
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Unilever has a long history of enacting sustainability efforts, and so it’s no surprise that the company recently commissioned its own study on the topic in partnership with the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a global social purpose company. 

The primary question: What drives consumers to actually act on sustainability initiatives? To find out, BIT created a simulated social platform with 6.000 UK, U.S., and Canada-based consumers to measure behavior changes depending on different styles of content. 

How are consumers most easily influenced? The survey found that content influencers have the single biggest impact on customers’ sustainability choices. While 78% look to influencers, 48% are influenced by television documentaries, 37% by news articles, and only 20% by government campaigns. 

TikTok and Instagram are the leading social media sources to seek out eco-friendly advice, according to 83%. While the source and messaging impacts consumers differently, the report found that consumers prefer both pragmatic advice (relying heavily on data and statistics) and optimistic advice (focusing more on practical demonstrations) pretty evenly — at 69% and 61%, respectively. 

The content was commissioned by Unilever’s largest brands, Dove and Hellmann’s, and had two direct impacts on consumer eco actions: driving them to use less plastic and waste less food. About 75% said the content made them more likely to do things like save and reuse plastic, buy refillable products, and freeze and reuse leftovers.

Other Key Findings

  • Generational differences: Eighty-six percent of younger consumers (17-34) prioritize sustainability messaging from social media sources. 
  • Branded content: Seventy-seven percent of participants support creators encouraging their audience to behave in an environmentally friendly way.

Conny Braams, Unilever’s chief digital and commercial officer, said sustainability is integrated into everything being done at Unilever. Therefore, being informed about consumer motivation should help the organization push forward on a more targeted sustainability approach. 

“What we hear from consumers is that living sustainably is a constant, overwhelming effort, and many feel ‘my act alone won’t count anyway,’” said Braams. “Our ambition is to continue to learn and improve the sustainability content produced by our brands and support the creators we work with.Together, we are learning what is all likes and no action, versus content that can help make sustainable choices simple and preferred.”

This is especially relevant considering the company’s recent leadership move naming Hein Schumacher Unilever’s CEO. Coming from Schumacher Dutch multinational dairy cooperative Royal FrieslandCampina, Schumacher oversaw an extensive shift toward a sustainable, tech-enabled supply chain; it's expected he will take the same heavy-handed sustainability approach at Unilever.  

    A Deeper Look Into Unilever’s Sustainability In Progress

    The company has committed to eliminating deforestation within its supply chain by 2023, investing in palm oil traceability tech that can capture commodity info and pass the details through the supply chain and at scale. Read more.

    Unilever is getting a better sense of what its sustainability needs are by combining nearly 40 years of continuous satellite imagery, along with data storage and machine learning, to monitor mills, landscapes, and farms. Read more.

    The company restructured its organization into five business groups earlier last year, with maintaining an enviable reputation as a leader in sustainability a key goal, according to Schumacher. Read more.