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Home » Influencers can switch people on to sustainable living- Unilever

Influencers can switch people on to sustainable living- Unilever

by Mohammad Ghazal

Unilever, alongside a cohort of eco-conscious influencers and behavioural scientists, has announced the results of a first of its kind examination of the role of influencer content in impacting sustainable choices.
The results showed that influencers have the single biggest impact on people’s green choices today. True for 78% of people, it is far ahead of TV documentaries (48%), news articles (37%) and even government campaigns (just 20%).
In fact, 83% agree that TikTok and Instagram are helpful places to seek out advice on how to be greener at home, validating the importance of social media as a valuable tool in helping to make sustainable living commonplace. This was even higher (86%) for younger participants (18-34), highlighting the greater importance that future generations are placing on living sustainably.
The experiment was created in partnership with the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), the world’s first government institution dedicated to applying behaviour science. To put activist influencer social media content to the test, BIT built a simulated social platform that showed people various styles of content, and measured the resulting behaviour change of 6,000 UK, US, and Canadian consumers.
Dove and Hellmann’s – two of Unilever’s largest brands – commissioned the content, alongside experts from across the business, which aimed to encourage the two most impactful behaviours on an individual’s carbon footprint: using less plastic, and wasting less food.
The results revealed that both styles of content are effective in nudging people to adopt sustainable behaviours. In fact, 75% of people said that content made them more likely to adopt sustainable behaviours, including saving and reusing plastic, buying refillable products, and freezing and reusing leftovers.
When measuring actual behaviour change, the study shows that people value both facts and practical advice. Of those who watched ‘pragmatic’ content, 69% went on to try something new to reduce their plastic or food waste as a result, with 61% of those who watch ‘optimistic’ content reporting action.
Branded content was viewed as just as engaging, authentic and informative as the unbranded content, with participants supportive of social media creators making sponsored sustainable content. Eight in 10 (77%) support creators encouraging their audience to behave in an environmentally friendly way and seven in ten (72%) support them selling products or services focused on sustainability. Seven in ten (76%) were encouraged to act after watching Dove plastics reuse content and 8 in 10 (82%) after watching Hellmann’s content on food waste reduction.
Conny Braams, Unilever’s Chief Digital & Commercial Officer, said: “People are finding it hard to make sustainable choices due to a lack of simple, immediate and trustworthy information. Our ambition is to continue to collaborate with our partners to improve the sustainability content produced by our brands and support the creators we work with. Together, we are learning what is all likes and no action versus content that makes sustainable choices simple and preferred.”
Professor David Halpern, Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, said: “This study is a world-first of its kind and the largest online controlled trial to test the effect of different styles of social media content. The behaviour change potential of social media is clear and the results show that there’s huge opportunity, providing fertile ground for further exploration in this space.”

About the study


Unilever partnered with one of the world’s leading institutions in behavioural science, the Behavioural Insights Team, to spearhead the research. Together, we kicked off with an in-depth review of activist creator content through the lens of behavioural science.
We then put some of the most prominent features of activist content to the test in a first-of-its-kind experiment. Going much further than likes and comments, our custom-built experiment platform simulated a real-world social media experience and enabled us to go on to measure actual behaviour change. In the spirit of experimentation and learning, we worked with ten passionate and diverse creators from the UK, the USA, and Canada, including @maxlamanna, @going.zero.waste, and @andyseastcoastkitchen.
For this pilot, Dove and Hellmann’s commissioned 30 pieces of content aimed at nudging people to waste less food and less plastic – two of the consumer behaviours with the greatest potential to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint.
6,000 participants in the UK, US, and Canada, were shown the content and asked a series of questions to understand whether it had affected their intentions to change their behaviour. Two weeks later, 2,500 reported back on whether it had affected their actual behaviours.

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