Research - 22.08.2023 - 15:00 

"SCOPES Report" Examines Perception of Sustainability Communication in Switzerland

How do Swiss citizens assess the sustainability of companies in their country? And what challenges do sustainability experts from these companies face? These topics are explored in a groundbreaking report by both the Institute for Economy and the Environment (IWÖ-HSG) and the Institute for Marketing and Customer Insight (IMC-HSG) at the University of St.Gallen, as well as from Publicis Groupe Switzerland, and Grownate AG.
Hiker in the mist at dawn at Bachalpsee lake, Switzerland

Topics such as climate change and the systematic exploitation of disadvantaged groups along global supply chains shed a glaring light on companies. It's no longer just a question of what companies do, but also what they communicate about their sustainability efforts. The "status quo" of sustainability communication in Switzerland was jointly examined by the Institute for Economy and the Environment (IWÖ-HSG) and the Institute for Marketing and Customer Insight (IMC-HSG) at the University of St.Gallen, along with Publicis Groupe Switzerland and Grownate AG.

Which companies appear sustainable, and which do not? For the quantitative part of the report, the team surveyed 5,555 individuals across Switzerland. Among other things, two questions were in focus: Which three dimensions of corporate sustainability – ecological, social, or economic – is most important to the respondents, and which companies already make a sustainable impression today? Companies influenced by "Swissness" such as AXA Switzerland, Ricola, Victorinox, V-Zug, and Zurich Insurance Group excelled in this regard. Online retailers like AliExpress or Wish were mentioned as the least sustainable companies.

Genuine sustainability efforts instead of greenwashing 

According to the survey, consumers considered it important that companies engage in environmental activities, prioritizing the ecological dimension of sustainability. The social and economic dimensions were deemed less important by Swiss citizens, possibly because they are perceived as "less tangible" in everyday life. Nonetheless, the social and economic dimensions must not be absent in a company's sustainability communication. Accusations of "greenwashing" can have serious consequences. The conclusion of the SCOPES Report for companies in Switzerland is that sustainability communication requires a balance of all three dimensions.

What challenges do corporate leaders experience? 

In the qualitative part of the report, corporate leaders discussed the sustainability topics they address publicly versus internally. Representatives from industries such as beverages, food, logistics, construction, and transportation were interviewed. Experts within these companies emphasized the importance of distinguishing between consumer interests and those of B2B partners. Consumers are interested in questions like "How is recycling done?" or "Are the lightings turned off at night?" On the other hand, potential B2B partners wonder if sustainability criteria are ensured throughout the entire supply chain. Without differentiation, the communicative effort misses its mark.

From the interviewees' perspective, it's a significant advantage for companies to collaborate with NGOs or external stakeholders who have already established a strong reputation in the field of sustainability, as their reputation rubs off. On the contrary, certificates and labels have little influence, according to the respondents. Due to the variety of these labels, consumers often can't assess their significance. Therefore, the importance of certificates and labels in B2C communication is strongly relativized.

The "The Swiss Consumer Perception of Sustainability Report" (SCOPES) is available for download at:

Image: SCOPES Report

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