The IPSOS Mori-commissioned survey of 1,000 British adults shows a public desire to see the private sector improve efforts to act ethically. According to the study, 47% of UK citizens believe that businesses with an ethical focus are better for the economy, while almost exactly the same proportion prefer to use or purchase from businesses that make a positive impact.

Ipsos Sustainable Development Research Centre director Jonathan Glennie believes that the role of businesses in social change is at a tipping point.

“It’s striking just how few people are happy with the current way of doing business,” Glennie said. “Being sustainable and ethical used to be marginal concerns for consumers but this survey points to us being close to a situation where the majority want to see businesses take a different approach and put those considerations on the same level as making profits.”

Systemic change

Just under half of respondents said they would not work for a business that they considered to act unethically. Meanwhile, 70% said they were more likely to purchase products or services from businesses paying employees a fair wage, and 47% said they were more likely to buy from firms which have a positive stance on social issues.

The survey shows that just 18% of consumers agree the current economic system is working well for them and less than a third believe it is working well for businesses. Commenting on these results, social change PR agency Forster Communications, which partnered with IPSOS Mori on the survey, said that stakeholders such as consumers and investors need to put pressure on businesses to focus on long-term sustainable growth.

“You would be hard pushed to find anyone, whether a member of the public or a business leader, who believes we don’t need to rethink our current economic system and the unsustainable focus on short-term financial return at the expense of everything else,” Forster Communications director Peter Gilheany said.

“Businesses like Unilever are leading the way but we need systemic change and long-term commitment, from government through the investment community and consumers, to create a more sustainable, effective and productive way of doing business, one that delivers positive results alongside financial performance across the board.”

Purpose means profits

The research supports mounting evidence which suggests companies that demonstrate sustainability credentials are likely to gain a competitive and commercial advantage. Public support for sustainable products was highlighted by a recent YouGov survey which found that nearly two-thirds of consumers would be willing to pay more for products that deliver positive such impacts such as increased environmental credentials.

Last week’s survey from strategy consultancy Globescan found that the world’s leading organisations in the next decade will be defined by their ability to integrate sustainability into their core business model. This followed a separate study which revealed that corporate responsibility is resonating amongst staff and consumers, offering better recruitment options for firms that embrace sustainability agendas.

Meanwhile, new research from EY has found that the majority of businesses believe that having a well-integrated corporate purpose, rather than maximising shareholder value, holds the key to succeeding in the future.

George Ogleby

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