While up to 80% of Consumers Claim They Are Concerned About Sustainability, a New BCG Report Reveals Accelerated Consumer Action Is Needed to Reach Collective Sustainability Goals
BOSTON—Corporate commitments to climate and sustainability are growing in number and scope, but increased consumer action is needed to reach collective sustainability goals. According to a new report released today by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), consumers care about climate and sustainability and want to do their part—yet only 20% said they believe they can personally have an impact. More significantly, 70% admitted to feeling wary of corporate sustainability claims and commitments. The report, titled Consumers Are the Key to Taking Green Mainstream, considers how to accelerate consumer uptake of sustainable products, services, and behaviors.
The report, which is based on a survey of 19,000 consumers across the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, China, India, and Brazil, finds that while up to 80% of consumers said they are concerned about sustainability, only 1% to 7% have paid a premium for sustainable purchases. However, focusing only on these two extremes—consumers who are paying a premium for sustainable products and services and those who merely express concern about sustainability—conveys an incomplete picture of consumers’ actual behavior.
“It’s easy to interpret these signals as a lack of consumer readiness, but companies will never maximize the potential of sustainable products and services if they focus only on consumers who are willing to pay a premium,” said Aparna Bharadwaj, a BCG managing director and partner and global head of BCG’s Center for Customer Insight, who coauthored the report. “There’s a significant number of ‘in between’ consumers who are just on the threshold of embracing sustainable products and services. The key question is, ‘How do we encourage these consumers to act?’”
Understanding Consumers’ Thoughts Versus Actions About Sustainability
Of the 14 product and services categories examined in the report, some are more advanced in terms of sustainable action by consumers—offering a significant opportunity for companies to step up.
For instance, in home care products, nearly 60% of consumers said they are already following sustainable behaviors such as recycling products, bottles, and packaging (36%), using reusable cloths for cleaning (35%), and buying refillable cleaning and home care products (29%). In cars, 39% of consumers said they are adopting sustainable behaviors such as avoiding driving or driving only when necessary (38%), or carpooling (14%).
Adoption of sustainable behavior also varies by market. The greatest concern about sustainability comes from consumers in China (93%) for categories such as home care, cars, grocery retail, apparel, and skin care products and Brazil (89%) for select categories including home care, cars, and PCs and tablets. Among developed markets, Italy shows the highest level of concern (87%), particularly in electricity providers, home care, luxury, and PCs and tablets.
Three Imperatives to Motivate Consumers Toward Sustainable Choices
BCG’s report identifies three imperatives for expanding the uptake of sustainable lifestyles:
“By understanding consumers’ core needs, and by removing real or perceived barriers through innovation and communication, companies can significantly increase sustainable outcomes,” said Lauren Taylor, a BCG managing director and partner and global leader of the firm’s customer-centric sustainability topic, who coauthored the report. “Making the attribute of sustainability an ‘and,’ not an ‘or,’ will be a win-win for everyone.”
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