Thought Leadership

The New Sustainability

The latest report from J Walter Thompson’s Innovation Group, explores the urgent need for brands to adopt regenerative, not just sustainable, business practices.

Marie Stafford

European Director, The Innovation Group J. Walter Thompson


J. Walter Thompson - The New Sustainability: Regeneration

The New Sustainability: Regeneration, the latest report from J Walter Thompson’s Innovation Group, explores the urgent need for brands to adopt regenerative, not just sustainable, business practices.

Doing less harm is no longer enough. The future of sustainability is in regeneration, doing business in a way that restores our fragile ecology, rejuvenates communities and makes a net positive difference in people’s lives.

Why the urgency? 2018 has seen record heatwaves on four continents, wildfires in the Arctic Circle and perilous water shortages. Despite 195 countries signing up to the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions, global use of resources continues to exceed planetary boundaries. As governments struggle to keep nations on track, businesses and brands have an opportunity to play a decisive role in creating a sustainable future.

But what was perhaps once seen as a burden or a box-ticking exercise now holds the key to innovation and revenue potential. According to conservative estimates, a new sustainable economy could be worth $12 trillion and create 380 million jobs. It’s potentially a win on many fronts for brands, which can drive efficiencies and minimise exposure to risks while aligning with the values of many of their stakeholders.

Consumers are already operating from a sustainability mindset, even if they struggle to make it a routine lifestyle. They are increasing the pressure on brands to make it easier for them to do so, calling for greater transparency and pushing for more sustainable options.

To understand attitudes and behaviours across countries, the Innovation Group commissioned an original survey of just over 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and China. The study was conducted by SONAR™, J. Walter Thompson’s proprietary research unit. The team also interviewed more than thirty experts, influencers and thought leaders in the sustainability space.


Marie Stafford, European Director, the Innovation Group

Sarah Tilley, Consultant, the Innovation Group

Ella Britton, Associate Consultant, the Innovation Group

Key take outs:

  • From Mindset to Sustainable Lifestyle. Brands should look to make sustainable options more convenient, affordable and accessible, helping consumers turn the mindset into a lifestyle: 92% of consumers across all markets claim to be trying to live more sustainably while 79% say they find themselves thinking more about what they can do personally towards a sustainable future.
  • Sustainable Capitalism Rising. There are growing signs that sustainable business is not just in line with consumer values. It can drive profits and revenue in the long-term, temper risk and unlock opportunities for innovation. 90% feel that companies/brands have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people, while 92% say that sustainable practices should be the standard in business. Unilever’s portfolio of sustainable brands grew 46% faster than the rest of the business in 2017.
  • The Innovation Opportunity. Tackling sustainability goals provides clear routes to innovation. The rise in consumer awareness is opening up multiple pockets of opportunity. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are reportedly a minimum $12 trillion opportunity. 82% of people would be interested in more practical tips and advice from companies/brands on how to live more sustainably while 54% would be willing to switch to alternative proteins in their diet.
  • Back to Nature. Exciting developments in the materials science space as well as in bio-manufacturing is driving the development of new sustainable materials that work in harmony with nature, not against it. Natural materials like algae, chitin and mycelium are providing viable alternatives to fossil-fuel and animal derived materials. New bio-manufacturing processes are making it possible to ‘grow’ materials and products that biodegrade harmlessly at the end of their useful life.
  • Consumers Vote with their Wallets. People may overlook their personal ‘sustainable living’ lapses but are more exacting when it comes to brands and judge harshly those that they feel are not doing enough. They will vote with their wallets, and sustainability will be the positive choice driver. 86% say that companies and brands that continue to deplete finite resources are stealing from the future: 83% say if they had a choice, they would always pick the brand with a better record on sustainability. In 18 out of 21 categories, consumers rated sustainability criteria as more likely to motivate purchase than quality.


Visit JWT’s showcase to read the full report


Jo Doyle, PR & Marketing Manager, JWT London, [email protected]

Guest Author

Marie Stafford

European Director, The Innovation Group J. Walter Thompson


Marie joined J. Walter Thompson in 2004 and leads the European division of the Innovation Group, delivering trends, insights and thought leadership to the agency's clients.