Influencers can shift people onto sustainable living: Unilever report

As per the report, eight in ten (83%) people think TikTok and Instagram are good places to get advice about how to live sustainably

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Influencers have the single biggest impact on people’s green choices today and this is true for 78% of people, which is far ahead of TV documentaries (48%), news articles (37%) and even government campaigns (just 20%), as per the latest report by Unilever.

Unilever, alongside a cohort of eco-conscious influencers and behavioural scientists, has announced the results of an examination of the role of influencer content in impacting sustainable choices. The experiment was created in partnership with the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a government institution dedicated to applying behaviour science.

To put activist influencer social media content to the test, BIT built a simulated social platform that showed people various styles of content, and measured the resulting behaviour change of 6,000 UK, US, and Canadian consumers.

As per the report, 83% of the respondents agreed that TikTok and Instagram are helpful places to seek out advice on how to be greener at home, validating the importance of social media as a valuable tool in helping to make sustainable living commonplace. This was even higher (86%) for younger participants (18-34), highlighting the greater importance that future generations are placing on living sustainably.

Dove and Hellmann’s - two of Unilever’s largest brands - commissioned the content, alongside experts from across the business, which aimed to encourage the two most impactful behaviours on an individual’s carbon footprint: using less plastic, and wasting less food.

The study content tested was created to be either:

  • Pragmatic – characterised by an emphasis on the scale of the problem behaviour, expansive and far-away consequences, and a heavy use of data and statistics.
  • Optimistic – characterised by practical demonstrations of how to live sustainably, emphasis on the benefits to the individual, and a surprising, often humorous tone.

The results revealed that both styles of content are effective in nudging people to adopt sustainable behaviours. In fact, 75% of people said that content made them more likely to adopt sustainable behaviours, including saving and reusing plastic, buying refillable products, and freezing and reusing leftovers.

When measuring actual behaviour change, the study shows that people value both facts and practical advice. Of those who watched ‘pragmatic’ content, 69% went on to try something new to reduce their plastic or food waste as a result, with 61% of those who watch ‘optimistic’ content reporting action.

Branded content was viewed as just as engaging, authentic and informative as the unbranded content, with participants supportive of social media creators making sponsored sustainable content. Eight in 10 (77%) support creators encouraging their audience to behave in an environmentally friendly way and seven in ten (72%) support them selling products or services focused on sustainability. Seven in ten (76%) were encouraged to act after watching Dove plastics reuse content and 8 in 10 (82%) after watching Hellmann’s content on food waste reduction.

Conny Braams, Unilever’s Chief Digital and Commercial Officer, said, “Sustainability is integrated into everything we do at Unilever, and much of our sustainability actions are told by our brands and the content creators we choose to partner with. What we hear from consumers is that living sustainably is a constant, overwhelming effort and many feel ‘my act alone won’t count anyway’. With a team of experts across marketing, sustainability, communications and digital, 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.”

Professor David Halpern, Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, said, “This study is a world-first of its kind and the largest online controlled trial to test the effect of different styles of social media content. The behaviour change potential of social media is clear and the results show that there’s huge opportunity, providing fertile ground for further exploration in this space.”

Instagram YouTube branded content influencers TikTok Unilever sustainable behaviour green choices