Research Indicates COVID-19 Has Not Reduced Consumers’ Demands for Sustainable Solutions

The study revealed that consumers hold retailers and consumer goods manufacturers accountable for taking strong pro-environmental positions and bringing sustainable goods to market.

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In honor of Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary, a new survey from Kearney indicates consumers still show a strong and growing interest in the environment even as the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to ravage the nation.

This year’s survey of 1,000 consumers’ attitudes toward environmental products and practices was conducted twice to see whether the outburst of COVID-19 changed consumer sentiment. The survey launched first on March 6, when many thought COVID would be contained to a few “hot spots,” and then again a few weeks later on April 10, when the scope and scale of the pandemic was more apparent.

The second survey revealed that actual consumer purchase behavior is beginning to catch up with stated intentionality in measured, incremental steps. Also, consumers hold retailers and consumer goods manufacturers accountable for taking strong pro-environmental positions and bringing sustainable goods to market.

In terms of how COVID-19 is impacting consumer attitudes:

·        48% of respondents said the pandemic had made them more concerned about the environment. 

·         55% of respondents said that as a result of their COVID-19 experiences, they were “… more likely to purchase environmentally friendly products.”

“This year we see consumers expressing a more direct link between their health and the health of the planet,” says Corey Chafin, a principal in Kearney’s Consumer practice, and one of the co-architects of 2020 study. “This tells us consumers’ pro-environmental sentiments are more than idealistic assertions. When it comes to the environment, consumers mean business.”

Among the study’s other highlights are:

·         78% of consumers believe companies could be doing more to help them make decisions that improve environmental outcomes.

·         65% of consumers expect companies to clearly explain environmental benefits on product labels or websites.

·         Since 2019, 11% more consumers reported shifting their purchases of core products based on environmental claims.

·         While 4% fewer respondents reported price as their most frequent barrier to selecting environmentally friendly products, availability in local stores also saw an uptick of 4%.

·         Consumers’ biggest behavioral shifts were plans to decline plastic utensils with food orders (85% increase) and buying in bulk (164% increase).

·         In the future, 59% of respondents are very likely to bring reusable shopping bags to stores and 57% are very likely to carry reusable mugs or bottles.

“The time for ‘evaluating market response’ is over. It’s past time that branders, retailers, and manufacturers take clear, authentic leadership on environmental issues,” says Greg Portell, lead partner in Kearney’s global Consumer practice. “In the middle of a pandemic we see consumers telling us—loudly and clearly—that it’s not enough to cut a check to an environmental organization or have some polished messaging in the annual report. What’s important here is executing against those lofty positions in the form of very tactical solutions consumers will perceive as authentic during and after COVID-19. Consumers demand a lot more out of the companies they support.”

The study covers a broad range of topics from fast fashion and plastics to consumer attitudes toward government and their trust in corporations.