How consumers are embracing sustainability
Adoption of sustainable lifestyles is on the rise, but consumers need more help
This is the third year Deloitte has conducted a survey into consumer attitudes and behaviours around sustainability, and over that period our research shows that consumers are increasingly making conscious decisions with sustainability and the environment in mind. However more needs to be done to give consumers greater access to information and offer better affordability and availability of sustainable options.
We carried out the first survey in March 2020, before the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and on conducting the survey again in March 2021 the results showed that while consumers adopted more sustainable lifestyles during the pandemic, for example by shopping more locally and/or more seasonally, this was due more to the impact of COVID-19 rather than a conscious choice to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
In 2022, our research indicates that with fewer choices and opportunities due to the impact of inflation and supply chain disruptions, consumers are finding more 'innovative' ways to spend less, for example by adopting a more sustainable lifestyle and choosing goods that are more durable or that can be reused or repaired easily. With economic uncertainty continuing, the question remains: will these behavioural changes become permanent?
Scroll down to explore the findings in more detail or jump straight to the key findings
What actions are consumers taking to lead a more sustainable lifestyle?
There is a sharp increase in the number of people who have adopted a more sustainable lifestyle in the last 12 months. Compared with 2021, consumers have significantly increased their focus on buying just what they need (+20 points), on reducing their meat consumption (+9 points) and on opting for low carbon emission modes of transport (+11 points). This could, in part, be driven by current inflationary pressures that are making people reduce their overall expenditure on grocery and transport.
More consumers are also being more proactive in their pursuit of adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, whether by choosing brands that have ethical or environmentally sustainable practices and values, or by no longer purchasing certain products because they have concerns around the brand's ethical or sustainability practices or values. The trend around people purchasing more seasonal produce has also continued to grow in 2022.
For most consumers, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle starts at home recycling or composting waste or reducing food waste . The next area of focus is reconsidering how they shop and consume whether it is limiting their consumption of single-use plastic , reducing the number of new products they buy , or by buying more seasonal products . Consumers are also embracing 'circularity' with one in two claiming to have repaired an item instead of replacing it with new equivalent. However, only one in ten claimed to have purchased carbon offsets and only 16% switched to renewable energy sources, which could reflect the fact that these activities are less accessible.
% of all UK adults
How do consumer attitudes and behaviours around sustainability vary by type of product or service?
Consumers are most likely to make sustainable or ethical choices in the categories they deem essential and buy most frequently.
This is manifest most strongly when shopping for food and non-alcoholic beverages: purchasing seasonal and local produce, limiting consumption of meat and animal products, recycling/reducing waste and cutting back on single-use plastic.
Consumers have also become more socially conscious when purchasing clothing and footwear, reducing the number of new clothing items they buy, fixing clothes, buying second hand/refurbished clothes, and choosing brands based on their sustainability and ethical practices.
Increasing consumer interest in sustainability is also being reflected in purchases of everyday household items and beauty products, with consumers more likely to avoid single-use plastic and to choose brands that have environmentally sustainable and more ethical practices and values.
What consumers consider a sustainable product
When asked what makes a product sustainable, the majority of consumers indicated that it was biodegradable or made from recycled material , followed by bring responsibly sourced , had minimal packaging , was carbon neutral and, supported biodiversity. However, when considering a purchase, consumers are more likely to value durability and repairability over recyclability or biodegradability.
Surprisingly, only one in four consumers consider a product being labelled as responsibly sourced or manufactured as a sign that it is sustainable, and only one in five rate labelling as very important when considering a purchase. However, this could reflect a lack of consistent labelling which could confuse consumers.
% of all UK adults
What environmentally sustainable and ethical values do consumers consider most important?
Frequent and essential purchases drive the greatest consumer interest in sustainable and ethical values. Discretionary purchases such as alcohol and tobacco, nights out, and major purchases such as cars generate less interest.
Over the last 12 months, certain brand values have become more important when deciding to shop sustainably or ethically in some categories. Sustainable packaging scores highly when grocery shopping, while reducing waste and a product's carbon footprint are also valued highly when buying major household appliances.
Consumers are also paying attention to ethical working practices and human rights issues when they shop for clothes and footwear. Eating out and the buying and delivery of takeaways raise the same level of concern. And looking across all categories, consumers value conserving biodiversity, water and other natural resources, as well as adopting circular practices, including the reuse, recycling, refurbishment or repair of goods.
Importance of environmentally sustainable and ethical values by products and services
% of UK adults (n=2,198)
What are the main barriers to adopting a more sustainable lifestyle?
The primary reasons for not adopting a more sustainable lifestyle are related to cost , lack of interest in the issue of sustainability and not having enough information. These barriers are closely followed by consumers believing that adopting a more sustainable lifestyle makes no difference and that it is too difficult or not available to them.
These findings point to the importance of giving consumers greater access to information and offering better affordability and availability of sustainable options.
What do consumers require to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle?
Given that the primary barrier to becoming more sustainable relates to cost, it is not surprising that making it more affordable to choose sustainable alternatives leads every other consideration, with nearly one in two citing it as the main area to address. Next, consumers would welcome better schemes to remove plastic and packaging and more clarity on disposal and recycling.
While consumers are looking to businesses to make products more sustainable, the majority would also be willing to take more responsibility if they had the right information. Consumers want greater clarity on how to dispose or recycle an item, how sustainable products or services are, and better signposting of ways to renew or repair a damaged item.
An issue of trust
In a sign that businesses lack the trust of consumers when it comes to their climate change and sustainability commitments, nearly one in two consumers either do not know what to trust, or simply state that no business claims on climate change issues can influence how much they trust businesses commitments to sustainability. For those that say they might be influenced, most important would be having a transparent, accountable and socially and environmentally responsible supply chain. Having a strong public perception and record on climate change and sustainability also gains trust as well as businesses making a strong commitment and adopting a clear position on sustainability and climate change issues e.g. net zero commitments and greenhouse gas reduction targets should be included on a company's website, in its annual report or Corporate Social Responsibility/Sustainability report.
Adoption of sustainable lifestyle is on the rise
There is a sharp increase in the number of people who have adopted a more sustainable lifestyle in the last 12 months. Compared with 2021, consumers have significantly increased their focus on buying just what they need (+20 points), on reducing their meat consumption (+9 points) and on opting for low carbon emission modes of transport (+11 points).
Circularity is growing in importance
Consumers are embracing 'circularity' with one in two (53%) claiming to have repaired an item instead of replacing it with new equivalent, 40% have also bought second-hand or refurbished goods and 38% paid extra for a more durable or longer lasting product.
Fashion with a conscience
Consumers have become more socially conscious when purchasing clothing and footwear, reducing the number of new clothing items they buy, fixing clothes, buying second hand/refurbished clothes, and choosing brands based on their sustainability and ethical practices.
Consumers have some understanding of what makes a product sustainable but it is not necessarily a consideration when making a purchase
Although the majority of consumers recognise what makes a product sustainable i.e. it is biodegradable (65%) or made from recycled packaging (60%), when it comes to making a purchase, consumers value durability (52%) over recyclability (23%).
Confusion over labelling
Only one in four consumers see labelling a product as responsibly sourced or manufactured as an indication that the product is sustainable, and only one in five rate labelling as very important when considering a purchase.
Sustainable practices that consumers value
Frequent and essential purchases drive the greatest consumer interest in sustainable and ethical values. Discretionary purchases such as alcohol and tobacco, nights out, and major purchases such as cars generate less interest. Overall, consumers’ top five most important environmentally sustainable or ethical practices are:
Producing sustainable packaging and products
Reducing waste in manufacturing process
Committing to ethical working practices
Reducing carbon footprint
Respect for human rights
Barriers to being more sustainable
The primary reasons for not adopting a more sustainable lifestyle are related to cost (52%), lack of interest in the issue of sustainability (51%) and not having enough information (48%).
Make it affordable
When it comes to helping consumers become more sustainable, given that the primary barrier to becoming more sustainable relates to cost, it is not surprising that making it more affordable to choose sustainable alternatives leads every other consideration, with nearly one in two respondents (57%) citing it as the main area to address. Next, consumers would welcome better schemes to remove plastic and packaging (54%) and more clarity on disposal and recycling (46%).
The price is not right
One in two consumers are either not willing to pay more for sustainability or are unsure whether they would. Only one in four consumers would pay more for sustainable packaging and products.
An issue of trust
Nearly one in two consumers either do not know what commitments businesses have made that they can trust or simply do not trust businesses on climate change and sustainability issues.
A note on 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 1-2 June 2022.
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