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Top consumer sustainability and environmental trends to watch in 2021

consumer sustainability

Seek and you shall find. Consumer searches for the term “sustainability” are rising, according to Google.  As consumers are significantly more interested in sustainability, expect brands to respond to their changing behavior.

Consumer attitudes towards sustainability

Google further reports people are not only looking for sustainability, but they are drilling down past sustainability into specific search terms like “recycled,” reflecting what they want to buy. The leading cause for online shoppers’ changing their purchases is for their “personal values” and “protecting the environment, per a study by eMarketer.

Companies are responding. Almost 86% of companies surveyed by HSBC expected their sales to increase from focusing on sustainability more.

Here are some major consumer sustainability trends for 2021:

Green energy

People are increasingly adopting a more green lifestyle, looking to see how they can shift in eating, traveling, investing and voting to reduce carbon emissions.

One way to reduce climate change is with electric cars. Some manufacturers are already looking to phase out their production of gasoline-powered vehicles. General Motors plans to stop making gas-driven cars by 2035. Norway has set a 2025 guideline to stop selling fuel-powered cars, and already has 60% of its sales in electric cars.

Renewable energy helps reduce carbon emissions. Wind and solar have both become cheaper, and their capacity is expected to overtake fossil fuels in the next five years, according to IEA’s Renewables 2020 report. Solar photo-voltaics are more than 1/5 cheaper than coal-fired power plants. New energy storage technologies will help further increase consumers’ renewable energy adoption.

Innovation and bold ideas

Innovation is driving several products and services in 2021. Many of these are focused on connecting to nature and replenishing ourselves, says Dune Ives, CEO of Lonely Whale.

Regenerative agriculture is one innovation consumers are interested in, with General Mills planning to convert 1 million acres to regenerative agriculture by 2030. Climate change rises from the traditional production of food and consumer goods, which account for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Another innovation is converting waste to energy. Farmers are converting their cows’ manure to methane, and Powerhouse Energy has invented a waste-to-energy hydro system, changing unrecyclable plastic waste into hydropower.

Environmental Racism and Burden of Proof

With the Black Lives Matter movement, more voices are being added to the historically white dominated environmental movement. Major brands have responded, but are challenged to not “purpose wash” their practices, instead making their actions match their public positions.

Purpose-driven companies grow faster than their competitors, as noted by Deloitte. More than 81% of shoppers look to brands to engage in environmental and social agendas, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer. And people are not afraid to call out brands and boycott them if they do not.

The “Knowledge is Power – Consumer Trust in Sustainability Report” showed that only 1 in 5 trust brands claiming sustainability. Instead, if a third party has verified claims, this number increases to 83%. Consumers are not just trusting claims, 33% are willing to do the work themselves by researching validity.

Buying locally

With lockdowns preventing vacations and air travel, people are shopping more at home. In the UK and United States, 2/3 of people reported shopping locally, and 55% plan to spend more. People looking to support their community are eating out and helping mom and pop shops. This not only helps the stores, but a Civic Economics report found that small businesses keep 48% of revenues in their back yards, as opposed to 13% from major retailers. Much more shopping in 2021 is being done online, thanks again to COVID. Also, food delivery services have grown as a result, with other retailers looking more to delivery to attract customers.

Health and Wellness

Covid-19 has put health at the forefront of our minds. A giant 80% of global consumers plan to eat more healthily this year. Shoppers are eating healthier, with alternative protein and plant-based diets.Recent TV ads have shown alternative meat products and Bill Gates said he eats non-meat foods. There are more eco-labels beyond organic including Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Non-GMO. Beyond physical health, with the pandemic there is a greater focus on mental health and people want products that help sleep and reduce stress, with 66% and 58% seeking this respectively.

With travel restrictions, improving home environments is a big trend as well. As companies extend remote work into the future, people are remaking their environments into spaces that flex for work, school and leisure. People also are looking to improve air quality in the home, buying plants and air purifiers. This shows with the increasingly popularity of healthy homes, such as Panasonic’s Healthy Home System, which works well against smog and improves air quality.

These consumer attitudes towards sustainability show people are looking at health more holistically, steering away from fad diets and examining their mental and physical health together.

Conclusion

Already sustainable consumer goods account for 16% of the market share, and they grew by 54% in the last five years. With 65% of consumers seeking products to build more socially responsible and sustainable lives, more and more companies will need to respond to stay relevant and to meet buyer needs.

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