Although rising cost of living continues to impact Australian shoppers, many continue to prioritise brands that are environmentally and socially responsible, regardless of tightened spending.

According to a recent consumer survey by Toluna, over two thirds of Australians remain committed to shopping ethically, citing the importance of brand values that align with their own.

Around 80 per cent of shoppers said they cared about the brand’s environmental and social impact while 56 per cent look into the brand’s commitment into reducing their use of plastic and paper packaging.

Even as inflation in Australia has surged to a 21-year high, Australian shoppers are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to ethical purchasing.  Toluna’s Global Consumer Barometer Study found that a third of respondents would go out of their way to engage with sustainable brands, although 39 per cent admitted they could not afford to do so.

“Our findings show that the rising cost-of-living and energy crisis is causing consumers to become increasingly concerned, to the point where it’s impacting their health,” explained Sej Patel, Country Director, Toluna, Australia & New Zealand.

“Yet, even as Aussies are preparing to forego some of their lifestyle choices in the face of price hikes – like cutting back on eating out, taking fewer holidays, and trading down for more generic supermarket brands – they are not prepared to sacrifice their values. Even in the midst of an economic crisis, Australian consumers remain staunch when it comes to holding brands accountable and proactively seeking out the ones that are most socially and environmentally responsible.”  

Green investments seem to be at the top of the average Australian consumer’s priorities as well. Almost half of respondents said they wanted their investments and savings to align with their values.

If cost wasn’t an issue, 48 per cent of Australians would purchase an electric or hybrid vehicle as their next vehicle, the survey found. Unfortunately, factors like maintenance costs and charging times remain barriers in making the switch.   

This importance of ESG initiatives among consumers remains crucial when the current economic situation is impacting Australians more than just financially. Over 30 per cent said they are more stressed, with one in ten Australians reportedly smoking more than usual, and a similar amount drinking more alcohol.

Almost half (47%) of respondent said they were worse off financially compared to before the pandemic.

“It’s clear that consumers are unwavering when it comes to their values, and businesses would do well to ensure they’re making every effort to understand what makes their customers tick in order to remain relevant,” Mr Patel added.

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ALSO READ: New report reveals Australia’s most (and least) ethical fashion brands

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Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is shaping up to be the corporate mantra of the 2020s, with the majority (83 per cent) of Australians concerned about climate change, according to the annual Ipsos Climate Change Report 2022. 

In Europe, we have seen the introduction of supply chain legislation that will make companies accountable for the behaviour and performance of their suppliers in a way never seen. As is the way of these things, we will no doubt be seeing a similar legislative effort on our own shores in the near future. 

The way we view our responsibilities as corporations, from the board down, is shifting. But this change has been slow. Current measures are not enough, on their own, to push corporate Australia down the necessary path to Net Zero.

Board buy-in is necessary  

Only 18 per cent of businesses have set a Net Zero goal, and of those businesses that have set a goal, only 21 per cent are taking steps to achieve it, according to research at Energy Action. That’s a fraction of the buy-in that we need.

At present, it can seem complicated and expensive for companies to get on board with Net Zero, which we know from just going through the journey ourselves.

There’s a growing demand for not only the cheapest power but the cleanest power. Before anything else, you need board buy-in. Currently, only around three in 10 Australian boards consider the Net Zero strategy a priority. To lift this number, a board-level commitment is non-negotiable.

Sometimes getting to that place can require a cultural shift, but it can be easier to achieve once you realise that solid environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) credentials aren’t just a feel-good box to tick off. Done right, ESG can be profitable and drive positive social and financial outcomes.

Steps toward Net Zero 

Net Zero certification doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult; it just requires an organised approach. In many cases, you can distribute the initial costs over time. The key steps to Net Zero energy are simple: measure, reduce, buy green, and offset. 

First, comprehensively measure your emissions. If you don’t measure what you’re currently consuming, you can’t bring that number down, and you won’t know what your offset burden will be. We thoroughly audited our last two financial years to find that number and identify several ways to reduce our energy usage.

Then, you convert your power to as many green sources as possible. Different companies will have different capacities to switch to green sources. Some might be able to install solar panels, upgrade to electric vehicles, and so forth, but everyone can change their purchasing decisions to make greener choices.

In our case, energy consumption was our biggest emissions contributor, so we were able to change our buying to mitigate that. We also switched to make the greenest possible purchasing decisions for all items we might need to run our business.

In some cases, these products may be slightly more expensive, but this is a cost distributed throughout the year, so it doesn’t have to be painful. Long-term, we hope to continue to transition to more and more Net Zero suppliers as those options come to market.

Carbon credits are the last piece of the puzzle. A range of certified credits – both nationally and internationally created – can be purchased to suit different needs and budgets.

But it all starts with board direction and the belief from the board level that Net Zero is important to the future of your business. If you aren’t there yet, you may want to consider it sooner rather than later. With investor mandates becoming more routine and consumers are increasingly interested in the ESG credentials of the products and services they buy.

The future; reporting, strategies, and commitment 

Current mandatory reporting, including National Greenhouse Emissions Reporting (NGERs), has been in place since 2007, but realistically this is a regulatory reporting doorstop with limited ability to change behaviour.

On the other hand, voluntary reporting through the government’s Climate Active program produces quantifiable and auditable emissions reporting but is just that – voluntary – and not without cost.

At a policy level, the challenges are that emissions reductions or, more broadly, ESG outcomes are driven by standards rather than a mandate to “achieve Net Zero”. Those standards have complicated implementations that take years to achieve and will be frustrated by paid lobby groups.

Instead, a strategy that leverages what we have already seen with domestic photovoltaic solar uptake around the country is needed. Incentives introduced in the late 2000s resulted in a vibrant and sustainable PV installation industry to this day, effecting meaningful long-term impacts on improving Australia’s energy security.

Targeted Net Zero could have the same effect. Properly supporting Climate Active certification could result in many more businesses finding innovative and cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and accelerate Australia’s Net Zero economy.

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There is no singular definition of metaverse and it is not a destination. It is an evolution, not a revolution made up of not one virtual world, but many.

However, metaverse can be broadly defined as immersive experiences that blend the physical and digital worlds. Current examples of the metaverse in practice include augmented reality, mirrored worlds, LifeLogging and virtual worlds. 

For businesses that embrace metaverse, there are a myriad of benefits:

  • Benefit 1: Employee Experience

When harnessed to its full potential, metaverse can help to build company culture. It can be incorporated into employee onboarding programs, while helping to create greater connection and collaboration in immersive spaces, particularly where remote and global colleagues are concerned. 

  • Benefit 2: Tackling digital fatigue

Secondly, adapting experiences to be more immersive and lifelike could also help to reduce digital fatigue. Recent research from Infosys uncovered that just one third of workers found tech empowering at the end of 2021 compared to almost two thirds in 2020.

  • Benefit 3: Customer experience

Thirdly, immersive metaverse experiences can help businesses to deepen customer engagement by adding more humanity to digital experiences. More lifelike experiences can set businesses apart, and leading brands are exploring this.

For example, Gucci partnered with Roblox to recreate a virtual version of the Gucci Garden in Florence that includes a Gucci Store, Gucci Museum, and Gucci restaurant. In addition, IKEA offers a mobile app that allows shoppers to see how pieces of décor would look in their homes.

  • Benefit 4: Visualising ESG

Finally, demonstrating ESG commitments and impact to investors, partners and the community in an experiential way, can help simplify the complexities around ESG communication. For example, given that there are no clear standards for monitoring and reporting ESG, visualising and building immersive reports can better engage audiences than a standard PDF document.   

Five challenges to overcome include:

  • Challenge 1: Technology

There is a need for more standard interfaces and APIs for the core technology that allows us to build metaverse experiences to simplify integrations and reuse of core components. Immersive experiences require higher capacity and bandwidth, so scalability is essential to optimising performance.

  • Challenge 2: Commercial infrastructure

This means greater integration and interchange between Fiat and Digital Currency, as well as digital assets between metaverses. It also means creating frameworks for risk management and security for operating in a decentralised and autonomous environment.

  • Challenge 3: Regulatory and legal considerations

Regulations and governance that enforce compliance, enable the right level of security, and provide stability and integrity certifications are important elements for building trust. Furthermore, frameworks and standards are needed to address gaps in accounting, taxation and reporting.

  • Challenge 4: Social concerns

While we can see the value of digital experiences, how do we monitor antisocial behaviour like cyber bullying, harassment and fraud? We have seen mental health negatively impacted by digital dependence, and with the move to more simulated reality digital experiences, there is a greater need to monitor this impact. Strong governance, continually evolving privacy and security standards are essential as complexity increases.

  • Challenge 5: Change effort vs. cost

Building metaverse experiences can be confronting and many organisations may not be able to justify the upfront investments and the skills needed for specialised platforms. This highlights the importance of building partnerships or joining consortiums that bring together specialist innovators from diverse fields to access these development platforms and skills.

Getting started

There is great potential for organisations looking to explore how metaverse experiences can impact employee and customer experience, however being able to experiment in co-creation environments with lower upfront costs is key.  

Organisations that seek out opportunities to explore possibilities and test ideas can differentiate themselves from competitors.

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