Consumers hold companies most responsible for improved environmental and social standards, according to research from the newly-released Mintel Sustainability Barometer.

Specifically, consumers say companies are the most responsible for a host of issues. Almost half (48 percent) of global consumers believe companies are responsible for increasing the amount of packaging that is recycled; while only a quarter (25 percent) believe responsibility lies with consumers, and just a fifth (20 percent) with governments.

Meanwhile, two in five (41 percent) global consumers believe that companies are responsible for reducing emissions from air transport, compared to 36 percent who believe it's up to governments, and just 12 percent who think it is the responsibility of consumers.

"One of the major challenges for companies and brands is how to effectively close this understanding gap to better position their products and services as part of the sustainability solution,” said Richard Cope, senior trends consultant, Mintel Consulting. “This will require more education around uncomfortable realities if more consumers are to engage with issues and environmentally beneficial products. More companies need to take the lead in asserting their positive credentials, but also in explaining what they view as the real societal problems — as well as their main business challenges. Messaging and campaigns will be most impactful if brands coordinate with government efforts or embrace the zeitgeist for environmental awakening documentaries like 'Seaspiracy' and 'Kiss the Ground.'"

Top types of companies held responsible:

The Top 9 types of companies ranked "most responsible" for protecting the environment by consumers include:

  1. Passenger transport companies (44 percent)
  2. Household product manufacturers (e.g. cleaning products, toilet paper) (39 percent)
  3. Packaged meat, poultry and/or fish manufacturers (35 percent)
  4. Packaged drink manufacturers (28 percent)
  5. Other packed food/drink manufacturers (25 percent)
  6. Retailers (e.g. supermarkets, online retailers) (23 percent)
  7. Skincare and haircare product manufacturers (18 percent)
  8. Make-up product manufacturers (17 percent)
  9. Dining Venues (e.g. restaurants, coffee shops) (15 percent)

“Companies — especially those in certain sectors such as transport and household — are being held accountable for their actions. Failure to react to this reality will ultimately hit their bottom lines,” the report says.

Mintel’s data also showed that, “consumers won’t compromise on quality or brand familiarity in the name of sustainability. A product’s positioning should never discount the ‘pleasure principle.'

“Looking at the example of coffee, we should never forget that a sustainable coffee is first and foremost a coffee. It must deliver pleasure, taste and quality before anything else. Likewise, sustainability is important when it comes to packaging, but the practical, fundamental elements are just as crucial. The cardinal rule of packaging should be that it protects the product and secures its shelf life so that the energy and other resources that went into its production aren’t wasted.”

The most popular behaviors are those that are simple and frugal, in other words, where consumers can have a positive impact by following straightforward processes or by cutting back on spending, Mintel says.

Specifically, recycling (curbside) is the most commonplace sustainable behavior, closely followed by returning packaging to stores.

There is a stark cultural contrast between Asia-Pacific and European markets in rates of ‘returning’ versus ‘recycling’ packaging, but the relationship with the retailer is key.

Accepting returned packaging is the clearest and most popular example of companies partnering with consumers on an issue they feel concerned about and fulfilling consumers’ desire to make a difference with their behavior, according to Mintel’s data.

Top environmental concerns:

Mintel also shared consumers’ top ranked environmental concerns.

  1. Climate change/global warming (53 percent).
  2. Air quality (e.g. exhaust fumes, industrial emission) (52 percent).
  3. Plastic pollution (e.g. ocean plastic) 52 percent.
  4. Deforestation (40 percent).
  5. Waste pollution (e.g. landfills) (40 percent).
  6. Water shortages (40 percent).
  7. Chemicals entering the environment (e.g. pesticides) (38 percent).
  8. Loss of biodiversity on land (e.g. species extinction, loss of wildlife habitat (30 percent).
  9. Loss of biodiversity in oceans (e.g. species extinction, loss of wildlife habitat) (30 percent).
  10. Food shortages due to drought or crop failure (28 percent).

“When consumers are asked to select up to three environmental concerns, it’s unsurprising that the concerns that are the most tangible (climate change), threatening to one’s health (air quality) and visible (plastic pollution) are out in front by some distance. Consumers aren’t environmental scientists, and, with their current levels of understanding, these factors will always precede considerations around GHG emissions when it comes to ranking their concerns,” the report said.

For the full report, including more detailed statistics and additional datasets, visit