How sustainability is affecting the average consumer

How sustainability is affecting the average consumer

14 Oct 2021

Author:KISS Retail

Sustainability: we talk and write a lot about it... but is it really important for the average consumer, in a global pandemia and the current economic situation?

Companies keep telling us about all their campaigns and actions to be more sustainable. Many do it for image, some out of conviction and others because they believe that is what the customers want.

We want to know if consumers are really concerned about sustainability and whether they believe society or companies should do something about it. But above all, to what extent are they modifying their purchasing behavior to be more sustainable?

A research was conducted by KISS Retail, Ebeltoft Group Spain, in which 900 consumers were interviewed. Following conclusions come from this study.

 An important issue for many, with a shared responsibility

The study shows no agreement on the importance of sustainability, both social and environmental, as a society key issue to be addressed in Spain. It is a really important issue for many, 45% of sample. Although 1 in 4 state there are more important issues in society that need more urgent solving.

Solutions to social and environmental issues should come from companies, consumers and governments:

  • 80% of interviewees declare companies are responsible for fair working conditions and 71% think companies should make it easy for the consumer to be sustainable.
  • 78% of interviewees want the companies and the citizens to shift to a circular economy approach: reduce, reuse and recycle.
  • 68% say consumers should purchase consciously: buying only from companies with a positive impact.
  • Finally, 77% of interviews state governments should legislate in order to be a more sustainable society.

Achieving a more sustainable society is seen by the interviewees as a shared responsibility.

What companies’ sectors should prioritize

Customers identify certain sectors as more harmful than others: non-renewable energies, transport and heavy industry are the top 3. Nevertheless, younger consumers –Gen Z and millennials- are naming other sectors much more often than older generations. Sectors named are apparel or food production. This might be happening because of both more consciousness and more awareness of trending communication messages in all media.

Actions to become more sustainable as a company are prioritized differently among sectors by consumers:

  • 58% say #1 priority in Food production and retail should be reducing excessive packaging and plastics.
  • Electronics companies should extend product life (48%) and facilitate product repairs (43%).
  • Priorities are not so clear in the Apparel sector, with similar % of people demanding more natural (37%) or sustainable (38%) raw materials, the use of recycled textiles (36%) and fair working conditions (32%).
  • Beauty industry should use nontoxic natural ingredients (52%) and reduce excessive packaging (49%)
  • And the top priority in the Delivery sector should be reducing excessive packaging (48%).

It is interesting how interviewees have a hard time trying to remember brands or retailers sustainable initiatives when asked, only being able to recall a) actions they are part of (recycling programs, food collection campaigns…), b) largely publicized initiatives or c) actions by companies known for their sustainable values. It shows us the great influence of communication on collective ideas; companies must of course work on sustainability initiatives, but also on the communication strategy to make them visible.

Consumers declare to have changed their behaviors

Consumers not only expect companies to become more sustainable, but they also want to become more sustainable themselves. They appreciate the initiatives launched by companies that allow them to contribute to sustainability, and they are also changing their purchasing and consumption habits.

In addition to recycling, which is the most popular and widespread sustainable behavior, consumers have also done in the last two years:

  • Repairing products instead of buying a new one (46% of the interviewees). This action is more common in older generations, such as Gen X and Boomers, reaching 52%.
  • 39% declare choosing more natural products, thinking they are also more sustainable. “Natural” products are more successful than “organic” products, which have been bought by 21% of the interviewees.
  • 29% bought second-hand products, a sustainable action clearly more popular among Gen Z and millennials, where the percentage rise to 40%.
  • Buying products in bulk to avoid packaging has been done by 28% of the sample.
  • 25% stated they were purchasing less specifically to be sustainable (while 30% purchased less because of the pandemic)

It is relevant that 24% of Gen Z declared they want to be more sustainable but do not know how. Only 10% of the interviewees said they did nothing to be more sustainable over the past two years.

Consumers are willing to pay extra for sustainable products

A vast majority of consumers are changing behaviors to be more sustainable, and this must be seriously considered in companies’ business and communication strategies. But are consumers also willing to pay any extra money for sustainable products? 74% of interviewees would choose a sustainable product or one from a local business even if it is slightly more expensive (maximum +10%) than a similar non sustainable product. However, 26% of consumers would choose whether the cheapest product or the easiest to get. Advise: Know where your customers stand for when designing your offer and business strategy.