By: Faisal Khan, VP of Strategy and Insights, Sila

If there is only one thing I am asked to talk about as we start 2023, it would have to be on ESG or more commonly known as Sustainability, even though it is not always right to use them interchangeably! The buzz around Sustainability has been there for a few years now, but in 2022 it took flight, reached heights, and will only accelerate in 2023, especially with the COP28 scheduled in Dubai towards the end of 2023. 

I am very bullish on the opportunities Sustainability holds for brands, and this is no sweeping statement I make. At Sila, I spearheaded the largest consumer research study ever done on Sustainability in the GCC, the output of which was based on 3.5MN data points from 422K unique consumers, 38K+ data points from 180+ Government entities and 36k+ data points from 850+ brands. This massive AI-powered research was one of my key highlights of 2022, and it was eye opening in many ways. 

Let me actually give some tangible context to my bullishness with reference to some data points from the research: 

  • There is a 100% increase in people talking about Sustainability in 2022 vs 2019.
  • Brands are 105% vocal on Sustainability in 3 years time and there are 45% more brands who have become vocal about sustainability in the same time frame. 
  • The Government is almost twice as vocal about Sustainability over the previous years.

And what makes all this amazing is how the interest is driven across the three pillars of sustainability, that are Environment, Social and Governance. 

While brands are doing amazing things by taking the conservation of Sustainability forward in the region, the question is, are the talking-points aligned with causes that matter to the consumer and the priorities of the Government? 

Much of the focus of organisations has been on Environmental Sustainability, and there is no taking away that Environmental causes are trending and important, but Social Sustainability should not and can not be ignored. Social Sustainability remains to be the most important pillar of ESG in the region and currently as it stands, the focus of brands on Social Sustainability is under leveraged. There is a need to up their game on social aspects like income parity, mental health awareness, women empowerment, youth empowerment and tolerance. 

Even on Environmental Sustainability, organisations are not necessarily on-trend. On analysing all Environmental Sustainability related conversation by brands, the key focus has been on feeding the world sustainably, as most initiatives are centred around the importance of plant-based choices, vegan diets, food safety and establishing the need to steer away from Animal-Based choices [of course a lot of which is driven by CPG brands, both food and personal care]. Yes, these are causes of interest but perhaps a thing of the past, as the buzz around it started to settle in 2021. 

Data trends suggest that the biggest play in 2022 and leading to 2023 in the GCC is Climate Change. With a successful COP27 wrap up in Egypt in 2022 and the COP28 scheduled towards the end of 2023 in Dubai, Climate Change should be core to organisational strategies. From the research, we understand that Climate Change is the fastest, and it includes aspects such as, education and awareness on the impact of climate change, climate action, recycling, solar power, nat zero, clean and renewable energy. 

The need of the hour is to lap on to this trend and gear up to align with the COP28 wave in the region, a landmark moment for global progress against climate change! But at the same time to not lose sight of the most important pillar of ESG, that is Social Sustainability.