- Consumers often consider a company’s environmental footprint before purchasing 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 is the least environmentally responsible type of packaging. Paper was deemed the most environmentally safe material.
- This article is for business leaders who want to better understand modern consumer trends relating to sustainable products and packaging.
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 survey by The Economist, consumers believe that brands have as much responsibility as governments to create positive environmental change. [Related: What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?]
Over the past five years, there has been a 71% rise in online searches for sustainable goods globally, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. Consumers are engaging with sustainable businesses in ways that they previously ignored. This trend isn’t just in first-world countries. Consumer satisfaction in developing and emerging economies is also tied to concerns around climate change, and many want businesses to commit to protecting nature and natural systems. Learn from companies like PayPal that prioritize social responsibility, setting an example for employees and customers.
According to a survey from McKinsey & Co., 66% of all respondents and 75% of millennial respondents say that they consider sustainability when they make a purchase. Customers now align themselves with brands that are compatible with their values and priorities. With environmental stability as a high priority for many people, it’s important that businesses do their part to lower their carbon footprint.
Consumers consider products’ environmental impact
While the data suggests that more consumers form relationships with brands that pay attention to their products’ environmental impact, researchers at Accenture were quick to point out that affordability and quality were still the main driving factors behind a vast majority of purchases.
Among the 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, managing director of strategy and sustainability at Accenture. “Companies across industries have started to lead with purpose, including embracing the circular economy as a greater opportunity to drive growth and competitive agility.”
Key takeaway: Many customers are willing to pay more for sustainable products with high-quality, environmentally friendly packaging.
Consumers question the 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 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. We’ve outlined a number of eco-friendly business ideas for entrepreneurs.
“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, American Chemistry Council (ACC) officials estimate 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, ACC said, by “expanding the use of pyrolysis and other advanced plastic recycling technologies.”
Consumers are generally interested in doing what they can to live more sustainably and expect businesses to play a part in that. While many consumers actively seek out brands and businesses that align with their values, they’re also willing to switch products or companies when something violates their ethics. Consumers are also willing to be outspoken about these transgressions in public forums. Many take to social media to address their concerns and complaints, and some are willing to protest companies at their physical locations. It becomes bad business for companies to ignore the values and concerns of the most loyal and active customers, as they could face a decline in sales and PR backlash. [Related: How to Drive More Sales]
Sustainably sourced goods also create an opportunity for profit. In the United Kingdom, the market for these products was worth £41 billion (about $56 billion) in 2019. In India, sales of organic and sustainable products have increased by 13% since 2018.
Key takeaway: Consumers are more attracted to brands with sustainable practices and products – and those businesses turn a profit.
Industries and companies are listening to their consumers about what they want. Over 50% of C-level executives in the fashion and textile industry have claimed that consumer demand is driving their brands to create sustainable products and best practices. Many of these companies have been sourcing sustainably produced raw materials to create their apparel.
The trend of sourcing organic and sustainable materials has also been seen in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical sectors. These industries have been making a concerted effort to use sustainable materials. Consumers have the ability to drive entire industries to change, and the benefit for those companies is that they have a positive increase on their market sector.
Sean Peek contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.