These are the main findings from this year's sustainability study or "Sustainability Image Score" (SIS) by Facit Research. The survey has been conducted every year since 2011 and reflects how customers perceive the sustainability image promoted by companies and brands. The SIS rankings for 2014 are topped by the likes of Audi, BMW, Hipp, Frosta, Milupa, Bärenmarke, Bosch, Alete, Coppenrath & Wiese and Landliebe. The Top 3 from last year did not manage to retain their leading positions, although most companies overall did see some improvement. Car manufacturers have been particularly successful in terms of integrating the added value associated with sustainability into their brand's core identity. SIS 2014 also looked at luxury brands such as Prada and Mont Blanc.
Munich, 26 May 2014 — The Serviceplan Group is presenting the results of its "Sustainability Image Score" (SIS) for what is now the fourth time in total. This study conducted by Facit Research shows how a company's record on sustainability affects its image, the consumer's willingness to buy and customer loyalty. And, above all, how a company's efforts and marketing relating to sustainability are perceived and rated by consumers. This is why the people invited to participate in the survey are not sustainability experts or opinion formers, but exclusively consumers and brand users. Again, 8,000 representatively selected people were asked about 104 companies from 16 industries.
The key results of the SIS study for 2014
Across the board, the main message from this year's survey is that sustainability is now at a premium. It equips brands to face the future and gives them more of what they should be delivering themselves, namely focus. The reward is greater loyalty inspired by an emotional attachment, which is often strongly associated with sustainability issues these days. As Katrin Meyer-Schönherr, Managing Director of Facit Research, explains: "It is also apparent that companies which take an active approach to sustainability management and constantly refresh their brand's core identity are climbing the SIS rankings or retaining their high placing. Two such companies are Frosta and Edeka. By contrast, a good reputation for sustainability based solely on a brand's traditional core identity will no longer be enough in future. Static brands relying solely on their brand image as handed down will find to hard to keep on convincing people." This is borne out by this year's survey, where it is mainly traditional brands - invariably occupying good positions in previous years - that are sliding down the rankings or being overtaken by other companies. Two examples would be Ehrmann or Lindt & Sprüngli.
The following is a brief summary of other key results from the study. The German pharmacy markets performed worse than before in terms of sustainability. The car industry on the other hand managed some improvement. The sector-based ranking system is again topped by the baby food industry, with 2014 also seeing financial and energy companies bringing up the rear, along with the fast food and telecommunications sectors. Katrin Meyer-Schönherr summarises the situation as follows: "All told, 2014 saw more sectors and therefore more companies achieve an SIS score of more than 60 and thereby leave the critical zone." This is corroborated by Joachim Schöpfer, Managing Director of Serviceplan Corporate Reputation: "While the consistently good performance of companies from a social perspective has remained at the same level, some progress has been achieved in terms of ecological and financial sustainability."
Organic products commanding higher prices
Companies are managing to sell more of their own organic brands. These are increasingly being perceived as sustainable in both traditional supermarkets and discount stores. The study highlighted this very clearly in the case of milk, with companies' own brands of organic milk doing rather better than the respective own brands of cheap milk and branded milk. As Joachim Schöpfer points out: "Traditional manufacturers with no organic offer are finding it increasingly difficult to impose their premium price. In future premium brands will have to deliver even greater added value if they are to avoid losing out to brands providing this kind of USP in the form of sustainability (organic). When customers make a conscious decision to spend more, it tends to be for organic or sustainability."
Luxury brands should not be complacent
The top premium brands, which were also surveyed this year, all performed relatively well, although few did outstandingly so. They currently enjoy a kind of "bonus" of trust, because they are definitely trailing behind in terms of sustainability-related activities and particularly how to communicate these accordingly. Customers of the top premium brands demonstrate a comparatively high level of awareness of sustainability issues. They expect companies to show more responsibility. As far as they are concerned, it is becoming increasingly necessary to invest in sustainability, since failure to do so makes it difficult to justify a premium price.
Definition of sustainability
For the purposes of the the SIS Index, sustainability comprises the three dimensions of ecological sustainability (responsible use of resources, environmentally friendly technologies, environmentally friendly products, etc.), financial sustainability (an assessment of whether a company carries out its business in a fair and reputable manner or is prone to questionable business practices) and social sustainability (whether a company offers good working conditions and job security and accepts its responsibility towards society).
The SIS study since 2011
The SIS study has been conducted by Facit Research since 2011 on behalf of the Serviceplan Group and in collaboration with WirtschaftsWoche. The survey canvases the opinions of more than 8,000 consumers and takes place early each year. The questions always cover more than 100 companies from over 15 sectors. Since 2013 the SIS has helped inform the decisions made by the jury for the National German Sustainability Award. The results of the study make it possible to gain a precise impression of the sustainability image of individual companies or entire industries from the point of view of consumers and how sustainability affects added brand value.