Converting intention into action: why change in sustainability starts from within

A green recovery is a resilient recovery. Sustainability is key to building commercial, consumer and brand value post COVID-19.


COVID-19 has brought about a seismic disturbance to our daily lives. It has forced us to reimagine all aspects of how we live – transforming the way we socialise, shop, work, dine, travel and dress. Yet, despite these drastic shifts in circumstances, our collective desire to fight for the environment has remained steadfast.

In fact, the COVID pandemic has triggered sustainable development accelerators previously considered impossible in the broader regulatory, business and investment environment: such as the creation of Green New Deal stimulus packages, the adoption of #BuildBackBetter initiatives and the rise of Impact Investment.

Through the turbulence of the global pandemic, sustainability has and will continue to provide value to:

  • organisation’s top lines – managing sustainability-related risks and realising opportunities
  • consumers’ lives – unlocking ways to help people align their behaviours more closely with their values and beliefs
  • brand equity – identifying, articulating and following through relentlessly in sustainability-centric Purpose

In Kantar’s new white paper Realising the value of good intentions, we interviewed over 20 sustainability trailblazers in the commercial sector, academia and NGOs to identify organisational and consumer challenges that are getting in the way of realising value. Concentrating on the Value-Action Gap, the paper looks at how to identify the levers that affect people’s ability to change their behaviour, apply this to Kantar’s proprietary decision-making framework, and ultimately provide advice on how to bridge the gap between people’s claimed intention and their actual behaviour.

Change starts from within

Our interviewees cited organisational challenges as a critical barrier to implementing successful sustainability strategy and initiatives. One of the most common problems comes from needing to reframe the competition.

Contrary to how brands operate outside of the sustainability space – there is a widespread acceptance that there is power and momentum in numbers and in collaboration. In order to solve the social and environmental problems that the world faces, brands need to shift their mindset from the competition being the enemy to the enemy being carbon emissions, plastic pollution etc.

Converting intention into action

Kantar’s foundational study revealed that 92% of people say they want to live a sustainable life, but only 16% are actively changing their behaviours.

And our global #WhoCaresWhoDoes 2020 research shows that the spending power of those most engaged with sustainable issues in FMCG alone is $382 billion.

So, what’s inhibiting follow through when it comes to behaving sustainably?

Humans are immensely complex and conflicting influences means that what we value is not always evident in our actions. Businesses need to understand what drives consumer decision-making and identify how to create interventions that allow people to align their actions with their good intentions.

As well as this, sustainable actions still largely fall within a cohort who are strongly engaged and more open to sacrifice than the average consumer. While sustainability won’t be an important driver for everyone, understanding how to recruit mainstream consumers will aid more widespread adoption of sustainable practices.

Download white paper

 Kirsty Macmillan