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52% of Belgian population change brands because of poor reputation on sustainability, says Leuven-based BPact

3 July 2023

85% of Belgians have a keen interest in sustainability, with the group of over-65s the biggest leader (90%). This emerges from the Sustainapoll study - a collaboration between Leuven MindGate members Bpact, Indiville, and others - among Belgians about their attitudes, knowledge, importance and behavior towards sustainability. However, 83% are convinced that companies only do sustainable business because they want to project a positive image.

Sustainability is alive and well in Belgium, the Sustainapoll study confirms. Interestingly, there is no greater interest among the youngest age group. Every age group is involved. The over-65s even have the most outspoken interest (90%).

From whom do Belgians expect the greatest efforts and in which domains? For two thirds (67%), combating pollution is among the sustainability efforts of companies. 64% think it is up to the government to reduce CO2 emissions. When it comes to energy transformation, 50% look to the government and 35% to companies. Only four in ten (43%) are convinced that they themselves can make the biggest difference in reducing waste.

This means that Belgians greatly underestimate the impact that they themselves can have. Jan Beyne, sustainability expert at Antwerp Management School, analyzes the situation: "Companies have a major role to play in responsible 'production'. In turn, as citizens, we have a big role to 'consume' responsibly."

Belgians may show interest in sustainability, but the belief that Belgians attach to companies' efforts around sustainability is rather poor. 83% are convinced that companies do sustainable business to have a positive image. 60% suspect that companies are committed to sustainability because other companies are doing the same. In turn, 58% think that profit is the biggest motivator. The belief in companies or organizations presenting themselves as sustainable is therefore rather low, especially when it comes to private companies (3%) and government institutions (5%).

Jan Beyne explains, "The perception is that companies do sustainable business to create a positive image, increase profits or because other companies are doing it too, not because of 'genuine' reasons. Whether it's woke washing or green washing, each time forms where you mainly talk about your social and green ambitions without checking the actual impact, makes no sense. On the contrary, such a thing can turn out very wrong. Mind you, many organizations do not necessarily do this intentionally. They lack the right data to make the correct assumptions. The message for companies: work on an authentic ESG strategy, identifying where you as a company still have potential negative impact and what you are trying to do about it, as well as how to increase your positive impact."

Yet tentative steps can already be noted in perceptions about companies' sustainability ambitions: over 1 in 3 (36%) estimate that sustainable business is motivated by a concern for the future. "To make a real difference in the world, you must not only change yourself, but also inspire others to do so," argues Jan Beyne. "That way you create a ripple effect. Sustainable business is about trying to create a positive image as well as increase profits and make a positive contribution to society."

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