It's a new year, and for many people, that means New Year's resolutions. It makes sense for many small business owners to take advantage of these resolutions for marketing purposes. A common example would be a gym promoting weight loss plans or products advertising they can help people quit smoking. A lot of people are also resolving to live a more environmentally friendly life. A recent study by Unilever suggests that this is a New Year's resolution that small business owners should also pay attention to.

Unilever, the company behind such products at Dove brand soap, commissioned an international study on how consumers felt about sustainable goods. The study showed that a large percentage of consumers worldwide (including in the United States) are actively seeking sustainable products and companies that use sustainable practices.

According to estimates from Unilever, claiming the market for sustainable goods currently sits at $2.65 trillion (€2.5 trillion), which creates more than $1 trillion (€966 billion) in opportunities for brands who can effectively communicate their products' sustainable attributes.

This confirms the conventional wisdom that public has high expectations of brands when it comes to having a positive social and environmental impact. The study also uncovers the an unprecedented opportunity for companies that get it right.

More than one in five (21%) of the people surveyed said they would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. For the majority of international consumers surveyed, they feel good when they shop for sustainable products.

While 53% of shoppers in the UK and 78% in the US say they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced, that number rises to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey.

Although a fifth of consumers preferring sustainable products may not seem like a large enough percentage to use for predicting future trends, there is good reason to think this trend will continue. It does seem likely that consumers will become more concerned about sustainability as human populations grow and we try to minimize the impact we have on the planet.

As a matter of corporate responsibility, it's good for businesses to be as sustainable and green as possible. But this research shows promoting a business's environmentally friendly and sustainable processes can also be beneficial for the bottom line

"This research confirms that sustainability isn't a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, it has become an imperative," said Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing and communications officer in a press release about the research. "To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability. Instead, they must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials, and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines."

The researchers hypothesised on why this trend toward more sustainable is happening now and continue into the future. The study suggests that part of the increased interest comes from "direct exposure to the negative impact of unsustainable business practices, such as water and energy shortages, food poverty and poor air quality."

Additionally there is the power of social norms. To illustrate, while Brazilian, Indian and Turkish consumer feel pressure from their family, friends and even their children to buy greener, more socially responsible products, this sense of social scrutiny is currently less prevalent in the UK and US, but certainly not nonexistent.

As business owners go through 2017, it's important to think of ways to make their products more sustainable and environmentally friendly. And whether it's on the packaging, in a press release or spread via social media, getting this information to customer can sway their opinion of the organization or influence purchasing decisions.

For more information on how consumers feel about marketing tactics, read this article on consumer sentiment toward branded content.