- More than 80% of survey participants said they felt it was "important or extremely important" for companies to design environmentally conscious products.
- Given nine industries to select from, 1 in 4 respondents said they felt the chemical industry is the least concerned about the environment.
- 77% of respondents said plastic was the least environmentally responsible type of packaging. Paper was deemed the most environmentally safe material.
Scientists around the world agree that the planet's climate requires immediate action to avert catastrophe. Recently, the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne, Australia, estimated that a "near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization" could take place in the next 30 years if the issue isn't addressed. According to a recent survey from Accenture, consumers have already started becoming more environmentally conscious with their purchases in an effort to do their part.
Throughout the month of April, researchers surveyed 6,000 consumers in North America, Europe and Asia about their purchasing and consumption habits of products packaged in different kinds of materials. Participants were also asked about how they recycled and reused those materials.
According to the data, which was previewed at the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Annual Meeting earlier today, a growing number of consumers consider the recyclability of a product along with its quality and price. Approximately 83% of respondents said they felt it was "important or extremely important" that companies design their products to be more environmentally friendly.
Along with price and quality, consumers consider products' environmental impact
While the data suggests that more consumers are paying attention to a product's environmental impact, researchers were quick to point out that affordability and quality were still the main driving factors behind a vast majority of purchases.
Among respondents, 89% said they cared the most about the quality of a product when choosing a product to buy, with price coming in at 84%. While consumers are right to consider the financial impact of a product, researchers said 49% cited health and safety and 37% cited environmental impact as factors they consider before purchase.
Furthermore, researchers said 72% of respondents reported that they were actively buying more environmentally friendly products than they did five years ago, while 81% said they expected to buy even more over the next five years.
"The shift in consumer buying, with more consumers willing to pay extra for environmentally friendly products, reinforces the need for companies to increase their commitments to responsible business practices," said Jessica Long, a managing director at Accenture Strategy. "Companies across industries have started to lead with purpose, including embracing the circular economy as a greater opportunity to drive growth and competitive agility."
Consumers worry about environmental impact of chemicals and plastics
In addition to consumers' growing awareness of how their products are packaged, the survey's findings show that people are paying attention to the supposed culprits behind the global climate crisis.
Approximately 1 in 4 respondents (26%) said they believe that, of the nine industries included in the survey, the chemical industry is the least worried about its environmental impact. Participants also ranked the chemical industry lowest in terms of communicating how its products affect the environment, with 72% stating they were "not very confident or not confident at all."
The chemical industry is considered a major driver of recycled and reusable materials around the world. Plastics, widely thought to be a major global pollutant, are manufactured by some of the chemical industry's biggest companies.
"While some of the survey results are encouraging, there are also implications for chemical companies, including the need to overcome negative consumer sentiment and to produce sustainable materials at a competitive price," said Rachael Bartels, a senior managing director at Accenture who leads its chemicals and natural resources practice. "The chemical industry is a critical enabler to the circular economy and can speed up its adoption, and the reality is the industry must get in front of this now, or risk being left behind."
Asked which of the packaging materials widely used today is the least environmentally friendly, 77% of respondents said plastic. Paper was considered the most environmentally friendly by 55% of participants.
If the chemical industry can rise to the challenge, ACC officials estimates that the recyclable nature of plastics could create 38,500 new jobs and add billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. It could do that, officials said, by "expanding the use of pyrolysis and other advanced plastic recycling technologies."