No longer just a buzzword, sustainability is a global issue, and consumers across the world are more aware and engaged than ever before. The ongoing conversation around environmental concerns is an opportunity for businesses to focus their goals on sustainability and improve future viability.
Over the past few years, growing anxieties around climate change and environmental issues have led to consumers becoming increasingly willing to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. In China, the number of consumers preferring to buy products with recyclable or biodegradable packaging increased significantly from 31% in 2019 to 80% in 2021.
It’s becoming increasingly important for companies and businesses to address people’s anxieties and take the lead in creating a sustainable future. Consumers still feel like they can make a difference, but Mintel’s analysis of global trends found that they are keen to hold businesses responsible for preventing further environmental damage. Audiences are becoming more savvy, and awareness of ‘greenwashing’ has grown. Businesses need to demonstrate actual behaviour change within their industries to make a genuine impact and engage with consumers’ sustainability priorities. 66% say they “would prefer for companies to reduce their own carbon emissions rather than use “Carbon Offsetting” programs outside of their own area of business”.
Sustainability – are consumers taking action?
Despite consumers’ awareness of environmental issues and the need for a more sustainable lifestyle, this has not necessarily translated into actionable behaviours. Although the majority of consumers in India claimed that living sustainably was their top priority, less than a third of Indians regularly practised green behaviours in 2022. Only 15% of them were recycling waste, and only 17% were regularly commuting in an eco-friendly manner. This is a global trend. In 2022, US consumers continued to be minimally engaged in sustainable living. Only four in 10 Americans considered living sustainably to be a top personal priority, despite two thirds of them having concerns about the climate crisis.
Mintel’s consumer analysis found a number of reasons for consumers’ inactivity. Recent global economic crises have impacted consumer attitudes towards sustainability. In India, 68% of consumers reported that when choosing a product, an affordable price is more important than sustainability claims. In addition, 42% of Argentine consumers reported that cost was the biggest barrier to regularly using eco-friendly products.
In many cases, consumers are more likely to engage with small lifestyle changes and easy sustainable actions. Consumers tend to make changes that do not affect their daily lives or consumption habits much. In Ireland, 76% of consumers regularly recycle, and the same number of consumers in the UK take reusable bags shopping with them all the time to reduce waste. Inflationary pressures in Europe and North America will sustain these trends, and processes that are simple or frugal are likely to dominate going forward.
Sustainability – What are the biggest issues for businesses?
Over the last few years, there has been a growing expectation for businesses to uphold tangible sustainable practices, and help make living sustainably an easy option for consumers. Now more than ever, it is vitally important for companies and brands to actively engage with consumers on sustainability issues. Almost half of Germans aged 16-24 say that showing that you care about the environment makes you look good, clearly highlighting the power a green image can have for brands.
Consumers are looking to brands to be the authority on environmental issues and to guide them on sustainable matters. There is a huge opportunity here for businesses to educate consumers on various sustainability concepts. In doing this, not only will they increase engagement, but also bridge knowledge gaps and make sustainable living a more attainable goal.
However, there are numerous challenges for businesses surrounding sustainability messaging. Mintel’s research found that a vast majority of UK consumers don’t trust retailers when they make sustainability claims. With so many retailers claiming they are sustainable, it is difficult for consumers to know who they can trust. Similarly, over half of Indian consumers believe that the majority of sustainability claims made by brands are false. To overcome these issues and build trust, businesses will need to be clear, honest, and transparent about their sustainability practices.