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New Study: "Rethinking Consumption" Finds Consumers Buying Less and Buying Better

On the eve of the holiday shopping season, a new study by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility finds that consumers are rethinking consumption with sustainability in mind. According to the Regeneration Consumer Study, two-thirds of consumers in six countries say that “as a society, we need to consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations” (66%), and that they feel “a sense of responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society” (65%). The findings are based on an online survey of 6,224 consumers across Brazil, China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States conducted in September and October 2012.

The affinity toward sustainable consumption is being led by consumers in developing markets (Brazil, China, India), who are more than twice as likely as their counterparts in developed markets (Germany, UK, US) to report purchasing products because of environmental and social benefits (51% to 22%, respectively), being willing to pay more for sustainable products (60% to 26%) and encouraging others to buy from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible (70% to 34%).

However, significant barriers to sustainable purchasing remain for consumers across all markets, including perceptions of product performance, high prices, skepticism about product claims and a lack of knowledge about what makes a product socially or environmentally responsible.

"Consumers are seeking brands that can improve their own lives while creating a more sustainable economy that can benefit all," said Raphael Bemporad, co-founder of brand innovation consultancy BBMG, who will examine the details of the study during this morning's panel on "Untangling the Consumer Attitude/Behavior Gap" at the SB London Conference. "While there is strong interest in purchasing more sustainable products, perceptions around price, performance and skepticism about product claims remain top barriers to action."

“The Regeneration Consumer Study shows sustainability is fast becoming a key factor when it comes to consumers’ purchasing decisions, yet there are still barriers that need to be addressed,” said Kelly M. Semrau, Chief Sustainability Officer at SC Johnson. “At SC Johnson, we are committed to learning more, so that we can create better products for consumers around the globe.”

"We believe understanding people's aspirations around consumerism and sustainability is an important area of inquiry,” said Ursula Mathar, Head of Sustainability and Environmental Protection at BMW Group. “This topic requires a great deal more understanding in order to increase sustainable consumption, which is why BMW Group supports The Regeneration Consumer Study."

Key Findings from the Regeneration Consumer Study (2012):

  • Consuming Less, Consuming Better: While 66% of consumers across the six countries surveyed believe in consuming less, the pattern varies across markets, with 76% of consumers in developing markets and 57% in developed markets being inclined to believe that “as a society, we need to consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations.” Similarly, consumers in emerging markets are much more likely than consumers in developed markets to “feel a sense of responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society” (82% to 49%, respectively).
  • Shifting Perceptions - Views on Price, Performance and Credibility Most Frequently Undermine Sustainable Purchasing: A majority of consumers globally agree or strongly agree that they would “purchase more products that are environmentally and socially responsible” if they “performed as well as, or better than, products they usually buy” (75%), “it didn’t cost more” (70%), “companies’ health and environmental claims were more believable” (64%), they “had a better understanding of what makes products environmentally or socially responsible” (63%), or they “could see environmental or social benefits of the products right away” (63%). Price is the top barrier to green purchasing in developed markets (78%) while product performance (74%) is the top barrier in developing markets along with needing “a better understanding of what makes products socially and environmentally responsible” (72%).
  • Collaboration and Participation - Being Part of the Solution: Two-thirds of consumers globally (67%) are “interested in sharing their ideas, opinions and experiences with companies to help them develop better products or create new solutions,” while seven in ten consumers (72%) globally “believe in voting and advocating for issues important to me.”

"With the Regeneration Consumer Study, our goal is to bring the consumer voice into the sustainability conversation and help articulate specific decisions and actions that companies can take to accelerate and grow a more sustainable economy," said Eric Whan, GlobeScan’s Director of Sustainability. “With data-driven ideas, we want to help companies make the business case for sustainable development and advance the creation and deployment of more sustainable products, policies and practices."

"Our economy and natural environment are facing unprecedented stresses as scarce resources are stretched to meet growing needs,” said Mark Lee, Executive Director at SustainAbility. “Through the Regeneration Consumer Study, we are revealing how consumer attitudes, behaviors and collaboration can help enterprising brands as they work to innovate smarter, safer, cleaner and greener solutions."

Developed by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility, The Regeneration Consumer Study is an in-depth online survey of consumer attitudes, motivations and behaviors relating to sustainable consumption among 6,224 respondents across six major international markets (Brazil, China, Germany, India, the United Kingdom and the United States) conducted in September and October 2012. The study is part of The Regeneration Roadmap, a collaborative and multi-faceted thought leadership initiative designed to engage the private sector in advancing sustainable development by improving sustainability strategy, increasing credibility and delivering results at greater speed and scale.

View the full study here.

Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]

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