New research shows climate and sustainability still top concern despite COVID-19 pandemic

Young female farmer walking through solar farm ©Mike Harrington / Getty Images
Getty Images press release – 7 October, 2020.
  • Getty Images research reveals 81% of people globally expect companies to be environmentally aware in all their advertising and communications
  • Getty Images partners with Climate Visuals to launch Visualising Sustainability Guidelines – supporting brands and businesses to use visual content which incites change

Getty Images, a world leader in visual communications and pioneer in the field of visual methodology, has today unveiled new research which shows that climate, and sustainability more broadly, are still key issues for people even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings have been revealed in a second wave of research for Getty Images’ creative insights platform Visual GPS, completed in conjunction with global market research firm YouGov.

Updated Visual GPS data shows that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, people today still strongly state concern around climate and sustainability, with nearly all points on sustainability similar, if not higher than data from the survey taken before COVID-19. As a snapshot of the issues to which people responded on the topic of sustainability:

  • 91% of respondents today said they believe the way we treat our planet now will have a large impact on the future, compared with 92% of those surveyed in July 2019
  • 69% of respondents today said they do everything they can do reduce their carbon footprint, an increase from 63% of those surveyed in July 2019
  • 85% of respondents today are worried about air pollution, compared with 84% of those surveyed from July 2019

“It is surprising and heartening that despite the huge change to people’s lifestyles and consumer behaviour brought about by COVID-19, the environment and sustainability remain as important to people as they ever were,” said Dr Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images.

“In fact, our customer search data shows that ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable living’ are trending up, quite against expectation. As a comparison, while the interest in the environment waned in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the environment has become inextricably linked to wellness during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The Visual GPS data also tells us for the first time that people want to see sustainability normalised in advertising and other visual communications, it is a clear call to action,” continues Dr Swift.

The power of visual language to shape opinion and inform debate

The updated Visual GPS research also shows that people believe the best ways of making a positive impact on the planet are to recycle (70%), stop the use of single use plastics (60%), use environmentally friendly products (58%) and use renewable energy sources for home power (58%).

“What’s interesting about these findings is that recycling, wind farms and single use plastics are all popular visual cues which have for some time been used to illustrate sustainability,” explains Dr Swift.  “For example, customer searches on our platform for “reusable water bottle” and “recycling” are up 152% and 148% respectively in the last year.”

“This demonstrates just how powerful visual language can be in shaping people’s views on an issue, which makes it more important for brands and businesses to use visual content which shows their consumer how they can take action.”

Grounded in 25 years of Getty Images research into visual representation, Visual GPS explores how consumers are influenced by four key “Forces”-Technology, Sustainability, Realness and Wellness-and what that means in terms of their decision making.

The new insights stem from the second global survey Getty Images has undertaken in partnership with YouGov, for which over 5,000 consumers were surveyed across 26 countries and in 13 languages, through April-May 2020.

Getty Images partners with Climate Visuals to present Visualising Sustainability Guidelines

In response to the Visual GPS research, Getty Images has partnered with Climate Visuals, the world’s only evidence-backed programme for climate change photography, to present Visualising Sustainability Guidelines. The guidelines give brands and businesses practical recommendations on how to find and use fresh and relevant visual content to communicate their commitment to sustainability and inspire their audiences to action.

The Visualising Sustainability Guidelines are below and link to Getty Images curations of example content you can use to visualise these guidelines:

Sustainability must be an intersectional objective

Businesses have sustainability experts and/or Diversity & Inclusion experts but visual content relating to environmentalism and sustainability should not be separated from visual content that is inclusive and diverse. Representational strategies should extend to sustainability.  

Climate change affects everyone across the globe, so intentionally include representation across ethnicity, class, age, sexual orientation, gender identification, religion and culture. Empower and feature all underrepresented voices. Break stereotypes of every kind. 

Visualise new sustainable concepts

Familiar images of melting icebergs and industrial chimney stacks can be popular symbols for signifying climate change, but they lose currency with repeated exposure. In addition to the classic symbolism, try expanding your scope with visuals that illustrate new sustainable concepts such as “circular economy”, “reusable” or “energy efficiency”.

Connect to aspirations about the future

Brands, eager to overcome the sense of helplessness many consumers feel, should focus on visual content that helps visualize the concrete actions, positive steps, outcomes and real solutions that will pave the way to a better, more sustainable future.  

Content should reflect authentic stories, including both the positive and negative aspects of outcomes and activities of individuals, communities and businesses who are innovating and collaborating to achieve sustainability. From those who are making small lifestyle changes, to industries who are driving innovative sustainable initiatives and new technologies.   

Bring it back to the individual

Creative content should show authentic individuals having real impact on a local level. Visuals highlighting individuals and groups at their best, relative to sustainability issues, personalise the stories for your target audience. Think about every aspect of the visual – whether it be an image, video or illustration – plastic straws, disposable coffee cups and plastic bags are elemental but undermine the sustainable message. 

“Familiar icons for sustainability and climate change have played an important role, giving people shorthand for a sustainability issue,” said Toby Smith, Senior Programme Lead: Visuals & Media at Climate Visuals.

“But to inspire real positive change we must go further than polar bears on melting ice caps. In partnering with Getty Images on these new guidelines, we aim to now help brands and businesses take an evidence-based,  solutions-focused approach to the climate crisis, visualising the actions, objects, and ideas that are paving the way to a greener future.”

For more information on Visual GPS please visit

Picture credit: Young female farmer walking through solar farm ©Mike Harrington / Getty Images