A number of studies have shown that consumer awareness and interest in sustainability issues is growing, with more people wanting to buy more ethical products from more responsible businesses.
But these good intentions appear to be latent, with increasingly “green” consumers inconsistently following through in their buying choices and consumption habits.
As new Ipsos-Innovation Forum research shows, people still face a number of barriers and competing priorities when it comes to shopping ethically. Price, convenience, and a lack of information and understanding are obstacles yet to be widely overcome.
Ultimately, consumers are not willing to take responsibility for sustainability, deeming the challenges too big and complex to be able to make a difference. Of those surveyed for the new research – in the UK, the US and France – overall 39% feel it is up to companies, not consumers or governments, to ensure consumer products are environmentally and socially responsible.
The intention-behaviour gap comes from consumers having many different demands placed on them when making purchasing decisions, says Meghann Jones, senior vice-president at Ipsos Global Affairs. She argues that it is necessary to recognise that “the costs of sustainable consumption – both financial and those related to knowledge acquisition – should be minimised to ensure that they do not prevent sustainable behaviour at the point of purchase”.
Overall, consumers are willing to pay more for products that reflect their concerns, with environmental (69%), social (68%) and governance (71%) issues of relatively equal importance. But Gen Z consumers in France are overwhelmingly (86%) supportive of companies that are dedicated to governance issues, such as treating workers fairly, for example.
Agents of change
The data shows that young consumers have a greater sense of responsibility than older consumers. “With technology at their disposal, and the examples of some highly visible and successful young activists to follow, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if younger people genuinely believe that they can be agents of change,” Jones adds.
The data also points to most UK consumers being interested in environmental issues, and those in the US more focused on social and governance issues. This could be a reflection of the heavy media coverage of the ocean plastics debate in the UK, and moves to limit regulation of business as well as brands increasingly engaging in activism on the other side of the pond.
Overall, the research sends a clear message to business: consumers want to make good decisions and will support their sustainability endeavours. But they need help to do so.
Most consumers (55%) say it is too expensive to buy ethically. And, while the number is slightly lower among Gen Z consumers (25%), almost a third complain that they just don’t have enough information about how and where products are made.
So, consumers will continue to hold businesses and governments to account. But current approaches to communicating the sustainability credentials of brands do not seem to be having the desired effect. But that needs to change. “Consumers want to make good decisions, but they need help in the form of clear, accurate information to do this,” Jones concludes.