Consumer Expectations for Sustainability

Significant gaps exist between consumer expectations and sustainable product availability

  • Sales of consumer goods that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability have grown more than 4% globally, while those without grew less than 4% in the past year.

  • 66% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands

  • 52% of consumers have checked a products package for information on its sustainable impact

  • 74% of consumers believe businesses should be very or extremely responsible for "working to improve the environment and society for future generations,"

Driven by a deep desire to protect the planet and improve livelihoods, consumers are adopting increasingly sustainable behaviors. It has become widely accepted that everyone has a role in protecting the environment and enhancing society, business included. In order to act responsibly, consumers are increasingly scrutinizing the things they buy.

Businesses that have not embraced sustainability are risking their reputations, and missing out on significant opportunities. Despite the growth in sustainable goods, there remains a large gap between consumer expectations and businesses meeting those expectations. Consumer studies continually reveal the willingness of consumers to pay a premium for sustainable products, and also their inability to purchase the goods that meet their needs.

The Causes People Care About

There are thousands of different sustainability issues, however not all are seen to be of equal importance. We conducted an analysis of multiple surveys, reports, and sustainability assurance standards, representing the views of tens of thousands of consumers.

From this analysis we were able to come up with a short list of the issues that consumers care about the most, and feel require urgent attention.

  • Climate change

  • Water Scarcity

  • Chemical use storage/disposal/ toxicity

  • Biodiversity loss

  • Water Quality

  • Energy

  • Waste

  • Supply chain labour conditions

  • Access to medicine/ healthcare

  • Infectious diseases

  • Poverty

  • Food Security

This list provides an excellent steeping off point for an exploration into discovering the opportunities for value creation presented by sustainability. However, more is needed. The trends in concern for sustainability issues provide vital information on future opportunities to create value by targeting sustainability issues that demonstrate a growing concern and urgency.

Future Outlook – Trends in Sustainability Concerns

Our research has shown that consumers feel that some sustainability issues are decreasing in importance, while others are becoming more urgent. This increase in urgency over time has two important implications, firstly it points to future business opportunities to meet the challenges presented by these issues. Secondly, it demonstrates that consumers’ needs are not currently being met, and that there are gaps in the market that businesses could meet. The issues that are trending up in urgency the most are:

  • Air Pollution

  • Water Pollution

  • Food Safety

  • Climate Change

  • Water Shortages

  • Loss of Biodiversity

  • Population Growth

These are all huge issues, however each presents multiple business opportunities to create sustainable value. Examples of businesses creating value from addressing these issues include Hand in Hand Soap and Faucet Face glassware who donate clean water to developing countries. Or, WeWood who plant a tree for every watch they sell to help address climate change. Knowing which sustainability issues are of concern to consumers, and which issues are growing in urgency is vital information for a business looking to generate value with sustainability. However, there are many other factors which influence the ability of a business to capture value from sustainability including, consumer willingness to pay for sustainable goods, the businesses capability to measure and demonstrate its sustainability, and finding synergies between a business’s core ideals, brand image, and particular sustainability issues.

Jay Whitehead |

Jay Whitehead