Shifting sands: Are consumers still embracing
sustainability?Changes and key findings in sustainability and consumer behaviour in 2021
A year ago we conducted a survey
into consumer attitudes to environmental and ethical sustainability. This was before the worst of the COVID-19
pandemic. In March 2021 we ran the survey again, with some additional questions to gain more insight into how
attitudes have changed. As anticipated, some of last year’s trends have accelerated while others have slowed.
In this research we explore how consumers are
adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, discuss the main barriers to consumers behaving more sustainably, reflect on
consumers’ most valued environmentally sustainable and
ethical practices, ask what consumers
need to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on consumers’ adoption of a more sustainable
Find out more below.... and check the key findings.
How is the pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle reflected in consumer behaviour?
As with last year, avoiding single-use plastics is the most common way consumers demonstrate
their commitment to sustainability, with 61% saying they have cut back. A focus on seasonality (49%) and
buying local goods (45%) are the next biggest areas of focus.Though slightly down on last year, ethical and sustainability issues remain a key driver for
almost a third of consumers, who claim to have stopped purchasing certain brands due to related concerns.
As with our previous research, around one in five has opted for low carbon transport or switched to
renewable energy. That is double the number who altered their financial investments or contacted a brand
to raise a similar issue.% of all UK consumers
not sum to 100 due to rounding.
What are the main reasons why people do not adopt a more sustainable lifestyle?
Three reasons for not embracing sustainability far out rank all others. Lack of interest tops the list at 22%, particularly on the issue of reducing meat consumption.
However, while some say they would be interested in switching to renewable energy and buying more local
produce, they perceive doing so as too expensive, or difficult as not always available where they live.
Indeed, expense is the second biggest barrier to change (16%). This is closely followed by not
holding enough information (15%).How does the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle vary by category?Consumers are most likely to make sustainable or ethical purchases in the categories they deem
essential and buy most frequently. As you might expect, this manifests most strongly when they are shopping for food and non-alcoholic
beverages. Seasonal and local produce, limiting consumption of meat and animal products, and cutting back on
single-use plastic are all examples of this.Buying clothing and footwear also stimulates an interest in shopping ethically. It is a sector that
has also seen a reduction in the number of new purchases. Everyday household items and beauty products also provoke an interest in sustainability. For those
categories consumers are more likely to avoid single-use plastic and to choose brands that have
environmentally sustainable and more ethical practices and values.For which of the following types of consumer goods or services have you adopted a
more sustainable lifestyle?% of all UK consumers who said YES they have engaged in an activity in an
effort to adopt a more sustainable lifestyleWhat are the most important environmentally sustainable or ethical values, and how does
that vary by category?As above it is frequent, essential purchases that garner the greatest interest from consumers in
shopping sustainably. Discretionary purchases such as alcohol and tobacco, nights out, and major purchases
such as cars generate less interest. Over the last 12 months, depending on the category, certain brand values have shown themselves to
be particularly significant when deciding to shop sustainably or ethically. Waste reduction (68%) or
sustainable packaging scores highly (69%) when grocery shopping; and a reduced carbon footprint is also
valued highly (48%) when it comes to buying major household appliances.Equally, around two thirds of customers pay attention to ethical working practices and human rights
issues when they shop for clothes and footwear. Eating out and (significantly in the last year) the buying
and delivery of takeaways raise the same level of concern. And looking across all categories, conserving
biodiversity, water and other natural resources are also expressed as being valued by more than a third of
consumers.What do consumers need to lead a more sustainable lifestyle?Here, better ways to reduce plastic and packaging have a big lead on every other consideration,
with 64% citing it as their top concern. But ease of disposal/recycling and greater clarity in the sourcing
of products are significant considerations too.And while businesses believe, with some justification, that consumers are looking to them to make a
product’s life more sustainable, around half of shoppers would be willing to take more responsibility if
they had the right information.In particular, greater clarity on how to dispose or recycle an item, better information around
sourcing, and the signposting of ways to renew or repair a damaged item would all be welcome.How has COVID-19 impacted the adoption of more sustainable lifestyles?While most people have taken measures to act more sustainably, for some this may have more to do
with the impact of the pandemic and having less choice and opportunities.Almost a quarter of consumers bought more local produce, and nearly one in five report an increase
in buying seasonally. While these might both be indirectly due to COVID-19, these behavioural changes may
become a lasting legacy.Equally, similar concerns have forced one in five to buy fewer new products as they focus on
second-hand or buying less. As might be expected, this is particularly true in less affluent socio-economic
groups.In summaryBusinesses need to plan for ways they can make their products more sustainable and build
accountability into their value chain as our research shows that:
Sustainability remains a key consideration for consumers in 2021 with 32%
of consumers highly engaged with adopting a more sustainable lifestyle
Equally important, 28% of consumers have stopped buying certain products
due to ethical or environmental concerns
Gen Z are adopting more sustainable behaviours than any other groups: 50%
reduced how much they buy and 45% stopped purchasing certain brands because of ethical or sustainability
concerns. As wealth transfers to younger generations, sustainability and ethical considerations will
need to become the standard and should be transparent throughout the value chain
Overall, lack of interest remains the main barrier to adopting a
sustainable lifestyle, followed by the perceived expense and issues around accessing relevant
Consumers want to do more but many want brands to take the lead with 64%
of consumers wanting brands to reduce packaging, 50% want information on how to recycle and 46% need
clarity on sourcing of products
It is in frequent, essential purchases like groceries, household items,
personal care and clothing that consumers say they most often consider sustainability
The five sustainable brand practices that consumers value most include:
waste reduction, reducing carbon footprint, providing sustainable packaging, committing to ethical work
practices, and respecting human rights
There is a 50/50 split between those willing to pay more or not for
environmental and ethical brands.
To find out how Deloitte can help your business
respond to the changes highlighted in this research, please contact our consumer insight expert Ben Perkins or our
consumer lead for Responsible Business Emily Cromwell. About the methodology: These findings are based on a consumer survey carried out by independent market research agency, YouGov, on Deloitte’s behalf. This survey was conducted online with a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 UK adults aged 18+ between 5 and 8 March 2021.
Explore some of the ways that Deloitte can support you in your responsible business journey. We have focused on four priority areas:Whatever the business, and wherever you do it, it’s essential to build a value chain that demonstrates the highest standards in relation to labour, human rights, ethics and the environment. We can assess, design, implement, run and monitor all elements of a value chain, addressing people, process and technology needs.Businesses will feel the effects of physical climate change through higher costs, shifting consumer demand, and direct business disruption. We implement and deliver decarbonisation strategies, help businesses to seize opportunities in new growth markets and support them in developing their commitments to a green future.Companies with robust ESG strategies and growing financing needs arising from the low carbon transition, are seeking to use green and sustainable financing solutions to create an incentive structure that aligns with long-term sustainability goals. We assess, develop ambitious criteria, and assure each step of the finance journey.In a circular economy, businesses can create value, jobs, and address societal challenges. To do that, we develop circular economy business models and support product innovation to find and implement circular solutions, such as transitioning to sustainable materials and minimising waste.Find out more about succeeding as a responsible business
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