Consumers are now realizing the importance of buying sustainable products, and have started shifting decisions about purchases to place an importance on buying environmentally friendly products. Despite supply shortages and overall panic-induced buying during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers seem to be more concerned about the environment, based on trends from purchase decisions. The pandemic encouraged consumers to have a broader perspective about local resources and individual behaviors, especially environmental considerations, as people were made more aware of global issues.
A recent study by Accenture demonstrated that consumers are more conscious of the environment, but who are these consumers? The main consumer concerned about the health of the environment is a young to middle aged, often upper class, consumer who is aware of environmental issues.
Stephen Wyss (CPA, Partner – Consumer Industry Leader) of CohnReznick states “awareness after the pandemic has created a new type of aspirational consumer, they aspire to make a positive change on the community and buy brands that promote sustainability rather than luxury products that they would normally prefer.”
The impacts of COVID-19 put some things in perspective for people, resulting in a greater desire for individuals to better themselves and the world. Accenture describes these people as “consumers who are making sustained positive changes to shop more health consciously or sustainably.” This new mindset seems to have been spurred by the shock of the pandemic, which made people look around at the bigger picture. Many consumers see sustainability as encompassing environmental and social factors, and are now placing a higher importance on corporate responsibility.
Sustainable products may have previously seen as a niche market. As millennials become members of society with more buying influence, it is now increasingly popular to shop sustainably- across a broad variety of products, with food being the leading purchase and cleaning products coming in second, (figure 1A). This is because people care more about their health, both what they put into their body and what they are exposed to in their surroundings.
As researched in Climateaction.org, “New global research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), commissioned by WWF, shows a staggering 71% rise in popularity of searches for sustainable goods over the past five years, with continuing growth during the COVID-19 pandemic.” This rise is obviously positive for the environment, but what does it mean for companies unwilling to change their climate-oriented goals? Some companies are weary about placing an importance on sustainability as they do not want to alienate customers. An article by Marketing Dive stated that some marketers are weary about placing sustainability efforts on the forefront as “Kronthal-Sacco suggested that the uncertainty could stem from a fear of alienating certain consumer groups – climate change remains a highly politicized issue – or due to near-term supply chain disruptions that have roiled fourth-quarter planning.” These companies may have trouble keeping up with the success of those who do value selling and advertising sustainable products. Wyss states that “companies are more attractive to the consumer when they have a focus on sustainability”, so it is in every company’s best interest to sell and promote sustainable goods.
Despite the many negative effects of the pandemic, it truly opened the eyes of consumers and incited some positive change for the environment. Companies should focus on marketing sustainable goods and upholding a strong corporate responsibility. As global issues become more and more important to consumers, the world will hopefully see positive change in the marketplace of goods, and their effects on the environment.
Monique Mann is MCEC’s Communications & Marketing Intern. She is currently studying at the University of Maryland, College Park, pursuing an undergraduate degree with a major in Marketing and a minor in Sustainability. After graduation, she hopes to continue working in the clean energy sector with hopes of expanding and improving clean energy operations.