Global consumers seek more sustainable options

Demand for sustainable goods and services is becoming increasingly important in consumers’ purchasing decisions, according to a major study published this week.

Conducted by consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners, the second Global Sustainability Study suggests that 90% of global consumers are seeking out more sustainable options, and that they expect sustainability to become the norm, rather than a differentiator. Further, some 56% of UK consumers rank sustainability as a top five value driver despite the cost-of-living crisis over the past year.

The major study, carried out amongst 11,700 people in 19 countries, shows both internal and external motivators driving sustainable purchasing behavior, but that consumers – and businesses – have several barriers to break through.

"Globally, prioritisation and commitment to sustainability have increased for consumers since last year, however, many consumers now expect sustainability as standard and don’t think they should pay a premium for sustainable goods and services – interestingly, industries in which sustainability has been a highly relevant topic for a longer period of time are commanding the lowest premiums,” said Rosalind Hunter, partner at Simon-Kucher. “This means that companies must adjust their business models to stay relevant to consumers.”

In the UK, 75% of respondents report that they have changed their purchasing habits over the past year to be more sustainable. Though some of these changes might be modest in nature, the study showed a significant shift among respondents who previously identified their attitudes towards sustainability as negative or neutral, with this group now making environmental sustainability a higher priority when it comes to purchasing decisions.

Over two thirds of those surveyed (74%) in the UK indicated that over the last five years, their purchasing behaviour and choices shifted towards buying more environmentally sustainable products. No country experienced a negative shift in this regard and only one, Germany, stayed flat year-on-year. The US and Norway saw the largest positive shift of 16 percentage points.

While the majority of those surveyed are not willing to pay more for sustainable products, 30% of UK consumers said they would be willing to pay more for sustainable products/services. Respondents indicated that they were most willing to pay a premium for sustainable goods and services when it comes to consumer goods (35%) and construction (30%) – they were least likely to pay a premium when it comes to energy/utilities (26%).

While a sense of responsibility (65%) was the leading motivator for purchasing sustainable goods and services, followed by a fear of environmental damage (48%) and the benefit of younger generations (43%), respondents also indicated that the three primary barriers to sustainable purchasing were the lack of affordability (31%), lack of clarity on whether a product/service is sustainable (25%), and insufficient access to sustainable goods (24%).

Inflationary pressures around the world have also had a dampening effect on the purchase of sustainable goods and services, according to the report. Some 34% of UK respondents said they were less likely to buy sustainable goods and services due to inflation pushing up prices.

“With attitudes and behaviors towards sustainable consumerism trending upwards year over year, it’s clear that sustainability is not a fad and is here to stay,” added James Brown, UK managing partner at Simon-Kucher. “Consumers will continue to expect more from companies and those that don’t adapt and innovate, even in spite of hurdles such as inflationary pressures, will suffer in regards to their long-term profitability and viability.”

The Global Sustainability Study 2022 survey was conducted between July and August 2022 across the US (1,003), Germany (1,001), Denmark (760), Sweden (755), Brazil (532), China (505), Singapore (526), Spain (528), Switzerland (512), UK (507), Australia (502), Austria (515), France (512), the Netherlands (501), Norway (752), Italy (506), UAE (510), Finland (758), India (526), including representative quotas set for age, gender, living area, education level, employment status and income level.

The study focused on products and services across consumer goods and retail; automotive; travel and tourism; energy/utilities; financial services; and construction/home.

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