NEWS18 March 2021

‘Walk the walk’ on sustainability and climate change

Impact 2021 News Trends UK

UK – The insights industry must do more to make it easier for consumers to make the right choices for the environment when purchasing products and should “walk the walk” on sustainability, a panel at MRS Impact 2021 has said.

A green earth held by human hands in a forest raised to the sun

The panel was chaired by Jem Fawcus, founder and chief executive of the Firefish group and founding member of the Insight Climate Collective (ICC), and also set out the positive role business and brands could play in make radical changes to help combat climate change.

Panel members included Russ Wilson, independent consultant, activist, and founding committee member of the ICC; Fenny Léautier, head of marketing insights and analytics, personal health, at Philips; and Jessica Long, head of sustainability, Ipsos Mori.

Wilson said that insights needed to work with companies on sustainability and the environment, pointing out that companies made up three-quarters of the top 200 economic entities globally.

“We as individuals can change our behaviours pretty quickly when we need to or want to. It is a choice we can make in the timeframe of days, weeks or months. The counterpoint to that is we don’t have the authority or power to make the changes with the larger-scale impact required.

“Government is there to drive change, but the pace of government is slow – it takes decades for big infrastructure to change. Businesses and brands sit in a really nice sweet spot as they have the ability to move quickly, but also big businesses and brands have the power and the reach to make change.”

Léautier said that insights had a specific role to play in bringing the voice of the consumer to the table, and should help make sustainability front of mind when projects or products are developed.

“Make it simpler, make it easier for consumers to make the right choice and make it desirable,” she said.

“If you make the choice for a sustainable green product much more desirable than non-green product, I think we can change a lot. We don’t give the responsibility to the consumer to make the right choice – it is an intuitive choice.”

There is significant confusion among consumers about how to make the best choices for the environment, said Long, pointing out there are 87 different eco product labels in use in the UK alone.

“Imagine the insight that is needed, even when consumers want to do well, to navigate that space,” Long explained. “It is important that we have a stake at the table and that we make sure the consumer has a stake at the table.

“We need a consultancy level understanding of this space to help clients and consumers navigate sustainability, as it is so confusing. We are not just conducting research – we are bringing a wider context of how complex this space is and the regulatory pressures, so the insight we are providing is actionable, strategic and will have the biggest impact.”

This includes working with big polluters and helping them make improvements, Long said, rather than only working with sustainable businesses.

Insights agencies should also get their houses in order. “If you are giving advice on how to make a business more sustainable, you need to walk the walk,” said Léautier. “You can’t be a hypocrite. You need to be credible and look at your own carbon footprint. Every agency needs to think about its sustainability strategy.”

Long added in a later question and answer session that pursuing carbon negativity could be needed, as there was not enough land in the world to plant trees on to offset the world’s biggest polluters.

“Carbon offsetting isn’t enough,” she said. “The idea of going carbon negative is an interesting idea and the next thing that will move us forwards.”

Wilson added: “Carbon offsetting is paying a tax for your bad behaviour – stop the bad behaviour. Everyone is talking about carbon neutrality by ever-clearer dates. Will it get superseded by net negative? That shows the pace of change.”

If you missed the conference, it’s all available via the MRS on demand service. Go to to find out more.