Consumers Are Ready to Act to Combat Climate Change, but Companies and Governments Must Take the Lead

BCG Survey Finds Challenges Remain for Consumers Making Environmentally Friendly Choices

Boston—About 83% of consumers around the world consider the impact of their day-to-day behavior on climate change—up to as much as 90% in some markets, including Brazil, China, and India. But less than half are ready to act upon it, and as little as 22% feel motivated when they think about climate change, according to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey of more than 10,000 respondents from ten countries, conducted in partnership with BVA Group. The study, Empowering Consumers in the Sustainability Shift, is being released today.

The survey, which includes consumers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Russia, the UK, and the US explores what lies behind this gap between awareness and readiness to act. It finds that cost is a key barrier to transitioning to more sustainable consumption patterns but only for a third of respondents. Other obstacles include time constraints (28%), inconvenience (21%), and lack of available options: 34% do not have an alternative to using a car for day-to-day transport. In addition, up to 28% of consumers feel they do not have enough information to know what to do, and 27% don’t think their behavior will have a real impact on climate change. The sum of these challenges makes it difficult for consumers to take effective action.

A significant majority (78%) of respondents—rising to almost 90% in some markets, such as Brazil, China, and India—admire those who take action to reduce their impact on climate change. However, in recognition of the many challenges that people face when making environmentally friendly choices, almost two-thirds of respondents show understanding for those who are unable to do so.

Consumers are less forgiving toward companies and governments. Around three-quarters of respondents think that responsibility for climate change rests with large companies and large countries, such as China and the US. Only half rate the response of international corporations and governments as adequate. In contrast, only around a third ascribe responsibility for climate change to individual consumers.

Indeed, 44% of respondents expect companies, and 57% expect governments, to lead the fight against climate change.

“Climate change is the most complex and significant challenge our society has ever faced,” said Francesco Bellino, a BCG managing director and partner and the head of the Social Impact practice in France. “Consumers are ready to play their part, but many are overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and are struggling to identify the most impactful actions they can take in their everyday lives. Our study shows that consumers around the world are looking for companies to step up and play a leading role in creating and promoting innovative solutions that will empower consumers in combating climate change.

Addressing this need for innovative solutions has to be at the core of corporate strategies, and for BCG it is part of our commitment to protecting our planet and helping our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage. The BCG Center for Climate & Sustainability brings together more than 550 experts working daily with companies to bridge this innovation gap.”

Innovation has to be consumer centric, as the survey shows that people are most likely to adopt changes that deliver the right balance between the effort required and perceived impact. Three-quarters of respondents reported opting to buy seasonal or local products and keeping the same smartphone for several years, which most rated as easy. By contrast, eating less meat and watching fewer videos on the Internet were the least popular choices, where many did not see a meaningful effect on climate change.

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or