Better Brands 2021 study shows people expect brands to assume social responsibility

Across all industries, to act empathetically is becoming a must for brands. They are having to expand the concept of sustainability, think beyond green issues and take social aspects into consideration. But only a few brands currently meet these expectations. These are the key findings of the Better Brands 2021 study by the brand and design agency Peter Schmidt Group.

The coronavirus pandemic and diversity issues connected to the Black Lives Matter movement have dominated the media in recent months. But they have not completely displaced the topic of sustainability in the minds of German consumers. On the contrary, these issues are being conflated into a single “mega-topic” as a holistic understanding of sustainability arises – one that encompasses social and economic issues as well as environmental ones. These are the findings of the “Better Brands 2021” study conducted by the brand and design agency Peter Schmidt Group. The study also reveals that although empathic action is becoming a must for brands, companies are still leaving a lot of potential untapped. “Consumers expect brands to behave conscientiously, but true role models are few and far between,” said Lukas Cottrell, managing partner at Peter Schmidt Group. “So companies with a pioneering spirit can achieve a lot. The time is now to set new standards in your respective industry.”

The “Better Brands 2021” study offers concrete suggestions and approaches. It examines various factors that determine whether a brand is perceived as sustainable, comparing 157 brands in the care and cosmetics, snacks and sweets, fresh foodstuffs and insurance sectors.  These factors include fair production, social initiatives, and resource-saving packaging, for example. On the basis of this analysis it is possible to derive concrete, individualized actions brands can take. If they pursue these options consistently, brands can succeed in standing out from the others in their industry and position themselves as pioneers – particularly given the relatively low bar for attention to sustainability measures at present. “Companies today have an excellent opportunity to introduce new design codes, particularly in the area of social sustainability,” Cottrell explained.

Katjes and Weleda have successfully addressed the topic of sustainability

In the “sweets and snacks” sector, the Katjes brand offers a good example of a successful positioning. Multiple initiatives over the past few years have firmly anchored the brand as ecologically sustainable in the perception of consumers. However, the brand still has some catching up to do in terms of social issues and design. With regard to sustainability, the leading brand across all industries is currently Weleda, maker of organic cosmetics and care products. The company carries ecological awareness in its DNA – but no other brand comes close to it in social aspects either.

Sustainability is not just a trendy topic among “Generation Greta”

In addition to a detailed look at individual brands, the study provides an overview of sustainability issues for society as a whole, compiled on the basis of interviews with more than 5000 respondents representative for Germany. Among other findings, it shows that sustainability has long since ceased to be a niche topic, and is of interest to 73% of the population, across all demographics. The expectation that brands should be responsible for sustainability initiatives is also significantly higher among older generations than among younger target groups. Companies are therefore well advised not to focus their sustainability initiatives solely on “Generation Greta.”

Peter Schmidt Group offers individual online sessions in which brand-specific topics can be evaluated on the basis of the study. A brief summary of the study and its key learnings can be requested by sending an email to

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