Does Sustainability Matter to Consumers?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: July 22, 2021
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Sustainability is growing increasingly important to consumers. 

In a recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group, 75% of consumers consider sustainability an important factor in their purchasing decisions. 

While 73% would change how they regularly consume to offset their environmental impact.

In this brief article, we’re examining the rise of sustainability as a driving force in consumer behaviour and the reasons behind the movement.

The Shift to Purpose-Driven Consumption

In a survey conducted by IBM, 40% of consumers claim to be primarily purpose-driven. 

They make purchasing decisions based on how the product and its brand align with their values and lifestyle. 

While value-driven consumers weighed in at 41%. These individuals buy according to value for money and are essentially looking for the best “bang for their buck” when making purchases. 

What does this mean for sustainable consumption? 

As concern for the well-being of our planet grows, more consumers are conscious of their environmental footprint. 

Thus, more people are committing to companies and brands that reflect such values. 

Further, more individuals are looking for sustainable solutions that make living sustainably easier. 

The fact that almost the same proportion of consumers buy according to purpose as those that do according to value reflects a shift in consumption that, according to experts, will only increase with time.

Changing Habits

The clearest indication of how much sustainability matters to consumers is how their habits change to adopt sustainable practices. 

These three areas have seen the most significant increase in environmentally-friendly consumption, based on data collected by Deloitte

Single-Use Plastics 

More and more frequently, we’re seeing consumers arrive at the grocery store with their reusable bags, refusing straws and forgoing plastic water bottles. 

The detrimental environmental impact of single-use plastics has been widely publicized. 

With countries such as Canada even committing to banning many single-use plastics by the end of 2021. Thus, many consumers have changed their habits to avoid such plastics. 

61% of consumers report reducing their consumption of single-use plastics making it the most significant area consumers show their concern for sustainability.   

Buying Local

The recent uptick in people choosing their local shops rather than the big box stores is another important way consumers are reducing their footprints and demonstrating they care about sustainability.

One survey of British consumers showed that independent local convenience stores, grocers, butchers, and bakers saw a 37.7% increase in sales in April 2021. 

COVID-19 may have sparked the “shop small” movement but it seems to be sticking as sustainability moves to the forefront for consumers. 

Seasonal Produce

Making strawberry shortcakes in January may be a thing of the past. 

Buying according to the season is growing increasingly popular as it is far more sustainable than off-season purchasing and importing. 

The frequent farmer’s markets, the decline in demand for foreign fruits and vegetables, and sharing of season-specific recipes are all indicative of the increasing importance of sustainability amongst consumers.

In addition to these three areas, we’ve seen trends in people actively cutting back on traveling by plane and opting for second-hand goods rather than buying new ones.

Overall, changing values are encouraging consumers to ditch old habits in favour of sustainable ones.

Which Products Matter Most to Consumers When Buying Sustainable?

The extent to which sustainability matters to consumers fluctuates according to industry, product, and service. 

For example, when purchasing coffee, consumers are willing to spend a few more dollars on a fair-trade option. 

While when buying a house, they may not be as concerned with buying one powered by solar panels.

The following items are the most common products that consumers will pay more for to buy sustainably:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Eggs

Sustainability evidently matters to consumers more in some areas than in others.

Meeting Demand with Supply

The growing value placed on sustainability by consumers is further exemplified by the behaviour of companies. 

Corporate giants are transitioning to sustainable methods and products. 

For example, Unilever created a line of “sustainable living” brands. 

These products account for 70% of Unilever’s turnover growth while 46% faster than their traditional brands. 

The growth in consumer demand for sustainability has led to growth in sustainable products and vice versa.

Where it Matters Less

Though consumers care about sustainability, there are areas where sustainable consumption decreases significantly. 

We’ve examined two explanations for the drop-off.

When it’s Viewed as a Sacrifice

Let’s consider the example of meat consumption. 

It’s common knowledge that reducing your meat intake is more environmentally friendly than not. 

Though going vegetarian and vegan is trendy, it’s still not embraced by all.

When it is clear it’s more sustainable and consumers do indeed care about sustainability, why aren’t more people cutting out meat?

Sustainability matters to many consumers. 

But, when it becomes inconvenient, its importance seems to lessen. 

A consumer may be happy recycling, cutting out plastic bags, and going to their local farmer’s market but they don’t want to eat tofu instead of turkey at Christmas. 

In other words, sustainability matters to the average consumer until it’s viewed as a sacrifice. 

When it’s More Expensive than Alternatives

Sometimes, fair-trade coffee is more expensive than the unethical alternative. Or the electric car is pricier than the gas-guzzler.

The more sustainable option is not always more expensive but when it is, some consumers can’t or aren’t willing to spend the extra cash. 

The higher the ticket price of the item, the more that price difference matters to people – a few dollars more for commodities here and there doesn’t seem to really move the needle a whole lot. 

But an extra $5,000 – $10,000 for a car? It makes a big difference.

The Future of Sustainable Consumption

So, does sustainability matter to consumers? 

The answer is yes, and increasingly so. 

The growing demand for sustainability is positive. 

It means brands will develop innovative ways to provide environmentally friendly alternatives to harmful products. 

The proliferation of sustainable products will also likely mean they become cheaper which will make it easier for consumers with cost barriers to purchase sustainably. 

If there were ever a trend to follow or a bandwagon to hop on, this one is a great choice!

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