A recent survey conducted by Nielsen in 2017 stipulated that a whopping 81% of global consumers felt strongly that companies should help improve the environment. This indicates a positive shift in consumer expectations and suggests we are becoming more informed as consumers. With our ever increasing access to information, we are in a much better position not only to research environmental and social issues, but also in a better position to research how companies are handling their impact and corporate social responsibility.
A Unilever survey in 2017 presented consumer data from 20,000 respondents in 5 different countries. An impressive 33% of consumers confirmed that they would actively choose and purchase brands who are known to do environmental or social good. This is a significant and valuable reflection of how sustainability has become a sensible business choice, as well as an ethical choice for companies who are wanting to tap into the growing culture of conscious consumerism. If we change what we buy, we change what is being produced.
Does it however indicate a gap between consumers wanting companies to switch to more sustainable methods, and consumers actually being prepared to pay for the more responsible product?
Pitching a sustainable product to a consumer will naturally aim to establish an emotional connection to the purchase, however does our desire to be cost efficient with our spending over-ride the justification of spending more? The global sales of ethical goods and service were estimated at £83.1 billion in 2017, yet Dr Wendy Chapple from the Responsible and Sustainable Business Lab states
‘Consumer surveys suggest many consumers like the idea of purchasing more ethical products..but this has not yet translated into purchasing behaviour, where price and ease of purchase still remain dominant factors.’
The market is shifting yet cost efficiency still appears to be dominant factor in our spending.
Every time we purchase we are supporting a brand, a supply chain, a work force. Our commitment to supporting responsible brands and positive purchasing therefore brings trans-formative conversations into boardrooms. When we let companies know that we care about where things come from, how they were produced, and what impacts they have on the environment and on human health, they have to respond to their market.
The realities of balancing cost efficiency with our desire to do good should perhaps be supported by our desire to buy less, then when we spend, we can spend in a more meaningful way.
It is well documented that the current pattern of endless consumption is generating unimaginable mountains of waste and exploiting our natural resources faster than we can change our socks. Minimizing our consumerism will allow us consume in a more ethical and responsible way. It allows us more freedom to pay that bit extra for a product or service which is deemed more sustainable.
There is power too is what we don’t purchase – political consumerism. Consumer boycotts are on the rise, and have just as just as much power to create that powerful shift in the market if our refusal to purchase is accompanied with feedback or a collective message to the company.
Aligning our spending with our values is aligning our behaviour with the change we want to see. A truly conscious consumer considers the social, environmental, and political impact of their actions and spending. It leads us to think –
What sort of consumer are we?
What sort of consumers do we want to be?