BT report finds trust in industry green drive amongst general public is a third of the utilities sectors. Survey also reports mismatch between messaging and consumer beliefs

Only 8% of consumers believe that construction is the industry most focused on sustainability according to new BT research. Consumer trust in the construction industry was a third of that enjoyed by the utilities sector, which came in at 24%.

Respondents were asked which industry they thought were most concerned with being environmentally or socially responsible. Only transport (5%), media and leisure (5%) and financial services (3%) were lower on the scale than construction. The research, carried about by Datamonitor on behalf of BT, showed the public sector was rated as 19% trustworthy and retail came in at 16%.

But 58% of executives polled from within the construction sector said they were taking significant steps to improve their impact on the environment and communities and a further 28% said they were doing all they could.

Employees in the construction industry were sceptical of what their employers were doing, with 32% saying they thought their employer wasn’t doing enough and 53% saying they thought that other things were more important to them.

Dr David Santillo, senior scientist, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, based at Exeter University, said: "The underlying reasons for the higher score for utilities over construction is that they tend to provide more information on their environmental performance and developments, and have done so for longer.”

He added, "There is also much more of an ongoing relationship between utilities and consumers than between the construction sector and consumers.”

Construction businesses said their biggest challenges were the heavy focus on margins in the industry (22%), a lack of pressure from sharehold groups (18%) followed by inefficient supply chains (16%). Over ordering is seen as the biggest cause of wastage in the industry, (by 38% of respondents).

But, Solitaire Townsend, co-founder and MD of sustainabilty communications agency Futerra, warned: "In the case of green reputations, virtue is not its own reward."

"The construction industry hasn’t, to any notable extent, communicated to consumers about their sustainability work. So one reason for the mismatch between sustainability performance and reputation of the construction industry is because consumers don’t recognize the brands, and the second reason is because they haven’t been told what the sector is doing."

Meanwhile, over a quarter (27%) of respondents had turned down a product or service from all suppliers on the basis that it had a poor record for environmental or social responsibility. 60% said they would be prepared to spend more on a product that was more environmentally friendly. The public sector and utilities said they felt the most responsibility at 71 and 68% respectively.

Overall, the survey found that trust in corporate behaviour was significantly mismatched with company messaging, with only 3% of respondents believing that companies were honest about their actions regarding what they are doing to become more environmentally or socially responsible.

350 senior executives in companies of more than 500 employers were interviewed for the survey. 618 individuals were interviewed for the consumer research.