More than ever before, consumers are choosing to back brands they believe in. To them, it’s not just what a company does that matters, but more importantly, how it conducts its business and the impact it has on society.  Trust is going to be a huge differentiator for brands, in a world that is devolving into an environment of disinformation, scandals and huge inequities i.e. total chaos.

The Edelman Trust Barometer has been measuring shifts in the dynamics of trust over many years, and its most recent report shows that ethical behavior is three times more important in generating trust in a company than the competence of the company. What matters a lot to people is whether the business is purpose-driven, honest and fair.

When consumers are demanding ethics and voting with their wallets for the brands they trust, we call that conscious consumerism. And with the massive challenges we’ve faced this year, we can only expect to see consumers demanding even more from brands along these dimensions. 

While Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles are not new to corporate business models, they are increasingly essential. Consumers place their trust in brands that stand for something, make a difference and commit to serving the greater good every day. 

The common link here is sustainability. Today, that means so much more than just caring for the environment (although that is a critical aspect of sustainability). At a high level, sustainability should focus on four key areas: inclusive growth, environmental stewardship, people and culture, and ethical and responsible standards.

Inclusive growth means making sure that everyone, no matter where they live, has unlimited and accessible opportunities. We must acknowledge that simply striving to treat everyone the same is not enough to move the needle. We can affect real change by working to level the playing field and bring prosperity within reach for everyone. 

Environmental stewardship reflects the belief that the planet does not belong only to us. Economies have flourished but at the expense of tremendous damage to the ecosystem. Consumers recognize that we must take dramatic action to repair the damage we have done. Just this week, Mastercard reaffirmed its commitment to combating climate change through the Priceless Planet Coalition. We are partnering across our ecosystem to reach consumers and sharing new ways for them to donate to the restoration of 100 million trees over the next five years. 

Brands are only as strong as their workforce — a combination of people and culture. When a business fosters diversity and inclusion, and creates a culture where everyone feels welcomed, supported and heard, it can live up to its own brand promises. Well-cared-for employees also make the most authentic brand ambassadors.

Committing to a sustainability platform that rests on these four pillars will not only help brands build and maintain consumer trust, it will help build a more equitable, stronger world. The pressure we’re seeing from consumers today creates a virtuous cycle where consumers, companies and their stakeholders are all working together for the common good. As brand leaders, we must rise to the occasion.