Glum headlines warning of a dystopian future and increased demand on brands to do ‘better’ -there’s no question that the ESG journey is one on every business’ mind. However, so far, it has proved a tricky path for many to navigate – with conflicting advice, measures, and frameworks out there, it’s not always clear which approach to take.

There’s a global movement demanding measurable action, moving away from greenwashing and empty promises that stakeholders, governments and consumers can’t trust. However, given the infancy of ESG, there are (as yet) no universally agreed metrics. Instead, brands looking to measure the impact of their ESG initiatives are left listening to the voices of investors, external consulting agencies or government - often with competing priorities or internal pressures blocking the way.

Managing a business in today’s challenging economic climate is complex enough, so responding to growing pressures of ‘building a better world’ without a clear path can make incorporating ESG initiatives feel nearly impossible. And, with so many stakeholders trying to influence and steer the direction, how can brands be sure of which initiatives are worth pursuing?

Putting people at the centre of ESG decision-making

All too often, customers’ opinions on ESG are overlooked or misunderstood, leading to expensive false starts in implementing strategies. The ‘environmentally friendly’ paper straw from McDonald’s that couldn’t be recycled drew 57,000 petition signatures from customers demanding the (recyclable) plastic ones were reinstated. Or Philips’ energy-efficient ‘Earthlight’ bulbs that were confusingly named, too expensive and didn’t fit the majority of lamps at the time – leading to their swift withdrawal from sale. A little more understanding around how consumers would actually use these products would have gone a long way.

Knowing how customers think, act and feel is a critical part of the ESG decision-making process. However, this is easier said than done when we’re talking about big, armageddon-inducing topics like the future of our home planet. Who would want to admit that they’re happy for the polar ice caps to melt if they can avoid sorting their recycling?

A large part of the research industry exists precisely to demystify the say-do gap, often focusing on innovative interviewing techniques or drawing explanations using behavioural science. We’re fully onboard with these methods and use them ourselves, of course. However, we also think it’s important to turn over new stones in the search for inspirational research participants. As a result, we’ve established the Ignite Collective, a digital community of creative individuals who are consciously living a values-driven lifestyle, often to the extreme. They tend to have a different take on the world than ‘typical’ research participants - we find that it’s in airing and sharing diverse views that the magic happens. Put simply, we’ll never find an answer if we all agree.

We help businesses navigate the complexities of shaping and implementing their ESG strategies by combining best practice research techniques with behavioural science, tapping into creative thinkers from the Ignite Collective, and building on years of experience in this space. In particular, we help our clients…

  • Navigate the new and evolving ESG landscape in greater depth
  • Identify which ESG priorities will drive the most positive impact for both customer and brand
  • Understand consumer motivations, behaviours and how to shift them to a “greener” mentality, so that sustainable options become ‘no brainers’

Customers are already guiding the way for some brands

Shell is accelerating the transition of its business to net-zero emissions, and embeds its sustainability commitment into its strategy, business processes and decision-making. As one of the world’s largest energy suppliers, its goal is to become one of the largest electric charging solutions providers globally, helping Electric Vehicle (EV) drivers to charge their vehicles and get around at home, at work or on the go.

The EV market is emerging and dynamic: a world of new brands, new driving habits and new charging locations. To plan for this ever-emerging future, Shell needs to understand both EV drivers’ needs, and to understand its own role in supporting consumers’ transition to a more sustainable world. We’ve worked with Shell to set up a long-term community of Electric Vehicle (EV) drivers. In a little over a year, the community has enabled understanding of the importance of environmental awareness in EV charging loyalty programmes, and sustainability as a lever to EV adoption.

This increased depth of understanding has already been instrumental in growing Shell’s reach among the EV driver audience. Exploring needs, priorities and user experience with the Shell Recharge app has contributed to an uplift of 100% in numbers registering in 3 key markets, in the last 12 months alone. Insights generated via the community have also impacted on huge CAPEX investment decisions. Building Shell’s EV solution involves plans to roll out 100,000 public UK charge points by 2030, for example. The community allows Shell to rapidly and cost-effectively understand needs, wants and pain points to model quantitatively, respond to market and audience shifts, and continue tracking its sustainability goals.

There is no doubt that Shell could have gone down the EV path without putting consumers at the heart of the conversation, but how effective it would be is questionable. The investment for those conversations, to understand the nuances of EV drivers and their needs, will pay off significantly as Shell moves into a new, carbon-free era. Shell’s EV community is just one example of how ESG consumer research is emerging as an exciting, fast-evolving space. It is an area where insight teams have the opportunity to drive more effective strategy by infusing the consumer's voice into their ESG initiatives. It opens up the opportunity to blend new approaches with time-tested methods, ultimately empowering future generations and steering our planet to a greener future.

For more information on how to use innovative research techniques and award-winning expertise to make the decisions that will make a difference, contact

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