Image Credit: Belinda Howell

Written by Kate Rourke, head of creative insights for Asia Pacific at Getty Images

After the 2008 financial crisis rocked the global economy, consumers’ environmental focus waned in favour of everyday concerns and their own pocketbooks. Are COVID-19 and its economic impacts, including Australia’s ongoing recovery, having the same effect?

Doesn’t look like it.

Whether it’s because Aussies feel they’ve seen the consequences of climate change in their backyard, or are just more aware of sustainability issues overall, climate and sustainability are still key issues for consumers – even amid the pandemic.

According to research conducted as part of Getty Images’ creative insights platform, Visual GPS, environmental concerns in many ways have intensified now than pre-pandemic. In the last year alone, searches for minimal and zero waste Christmas appeared across the iStock and Getty Images’ platforms for the very first time.

As Australia continues its economic recovery, what do consumers expect from businesses’ visual language? How can visual language shape views on an issue? And, most importantly, what are the practical steps you can take today?

Australian consumers, a sustainability-minded bunch

The research revealed that sustainability is still one of the key drivers behind purchasing decision-making, and that everyday concerns are increasingly intertwined with sustainability:

  • 76 per cent of Asia Pacific (APAC) consumers always recycle
  • 83 per cent are actively trying to reduce the amount of plastic they use
  • 75 per cent say they’re doing everything they can to reduce their carbon footprint

Perhaps the most crucial insight for retailers is that 85 per cent of ANZ consumers expect companies to be environmentally aware in all their advertising, marketing and communications – and often in ways that may not be directly connected to the environment.

Updating your visual language with a greener lens

The research reveals a clear call to action for brands and businesses to normalise sustainability in advertising and other visual communications. Familiar visuals like single-use plastics or polar bears on ice caps are popular visual short-hands, but you should look to expand your visual language and showcase the sustainability concerns that matter most to your customers.

The climate crisis issues causing ANZ consumers the deepest level of concern are “too much waste” and “deforestation,” with the latter pointing to bushfires’ impacts on ANZ consumers.

Adjusting your visuals can be as simple as looking for subtle details like not using disposable cups or other single-use plastics. Showing all the different sustainable choices we’re making, as well as showing the positive impact companies in Australia are having on sustainability, might even impact the bottom line, with one in two ANZ consumers (52 per cent) saying they only buy from eco-friendly brands.

Not only can these choices help you engage with your audience, but they can normalise more sustainable lifestyles and purchasing decisions. And, of course, always strive for representation and diversity across all demographics and ages in your images, since these issues matter to and impact all of us.

Striking a balance on sustainability

In response to our Visual GPS findings, we partnered with Climate Visuals, the world’s only evidence-based programme for climate change photography, to create Visualising Sustainability Guidelines – practical guidelines for businesses looking to inspire audiences toward action.

Here are some of the quick takeaways that retailers can incorporate into their communications and marketing:

  • Balance the positive and the negative. Consumers need to see the reality of environmental impacts, but relentless negative imagery can entrench hopelessness or cause people to tune out. It’s important to balance this imagery by showing positive actions businesses, groups and individuals are having on the environment.
  • Balance group action and individual action. While it’s good to show communities and industries innovating, collaborating and making changes to drive sustainability, it’s also important to bring it back to the individual.
  • Keep it real. Look for content that depicts relatable people making an impact locally – it could be as simple as authentic, everyday moments with individuals who reflect the diversity of their community. Again, watch out for instances of plastic straws or disposable cutlery. Even just a reusable to-go cup can subtly shape the conversation and speak to consumers who want to see their choices reflected in your advertising.

With climate issues impacting almost every community, industry and organisation, and consumers starting to connect environmental challenges to overall health and wellbeing, it will be critical for businesses to think about how they’re contributing – and what they’re communicating visually.