There is little doubt that concern about the environment is rising among consumers, as are their expectations of business. The environment is seen as the top (and growing) priority for business to address in the next few years, ahead of caring for employees, providing more jobs and keeping prices reasonable.
The environment is also seen as a priority issue for the mobile telecoms sector – it is the top issue that people would like to see mobile companies contribute to, ahead of social and community issues such as crime prevention, health and education. The public tends to raise handset recycling and the environmental (and visual) impact of mast siting as particularly important for this sector.
But the public is less familiar with other concerns raised by NGOs and experts, such as the environmental impact of handset production, the high levels of handset turnover among consumers and the carbon emissions produced during the lifecycle of the product – up and down the supply, consumption and disposal chain. While these issues are currently low on the consumer agenda, they could gain traction if the high profile climate change debate prompts a more searching media spotlight to target the industry.
So how are companies perceived to be performing? The public are receptive but cautious about companies’ claims, and they are alert for any contradictory messages which suggest the company is not living up to a ‘greenwashed’ image.
The public also feel that many companies still have a way to go on the environment. Only 14 per cent of consumers feel mobile phone operators are meeting their climate change responsibilities, just ahead of views of industry in general. Even for supermarkets, the sector that consumers are most familiar with on responsibility issues, only around one in three (36 per cent) consider they are meeting their responsibilities on climate change.
So there is burgeoning consumer appetite for green choices, sometimes for specific products, sometimes just for reassurance that companies are doing something on issues like climate change. Certainty, clarity and consumer confidence are the keys to unlocking future demand, and consumers need to see that companies are in this for the long haul. The challenge for companies such as mobile operators is to cut through the noise surrounding climate change and find a way to effectively communicate their activities. They need to demonstrate that they are showing genuine leadership on the issue, above and beyond consumers’ default assumption that green initiatives amount to little more than spin. Consumers are unlikely to begrudge companies tapping into the green market in order to improve their bottom line, just so long as they do really help ‘save the planet’ at the same time.