Updated: Oct 15, 2019
It seems that being ‘green’ has become the norm, with 80% of UK shoppers describing themselves as being ‘environmentally friendly’. This is no longer the preserve of Greta (Thunberg) and friends. In fact, the average ‘environmentally friendly’ UK shopper looks remarkably like any other UK shopper, and shops in the usual places. So, are we really all as worthy as this statistic would suggest, or are we prematurely congratulating ourselves because any effort is in marked contrast to the ‘have it all’ ways of the recent past?
That fact is that being ‘environmentally friendly’ can mean all manner of behaviours, and our traditional view of the earthy, vaguely hippy types personified by Swampy (if you can remember him aka Daniel Hooper, 1996!?) has been diluted by changes in our own habits, perceptions and expectations:
• Almost everyone actively recycles their waste nowadays
• 82% of UK shoppers claim to consider ‘environmentally friendly’ labelling within their purchase decisions
• 59% of UK shoppers claim to actively avoid particular types of packaging
Those who describe themselves as ‘environmentally friendly’ just aren’t getting involved because of a sense of duty or guilt, there are some clear and practical reasons motivating them. For example, reducing waste chimes with the learnt behaviours of the credit crunch, as well as and wanting to protect the environment and animals. And the increasing rejection of particular types of packaging is bound to be linked to legislation on plastic bags, and recent media focus on plastic waste. Many of us also seem to be buying into the concerns about global warming, which is listed as the number 4 reason for buying environmentally friendly products.
There are still barriers which are holding shoppers back, but interestingly these barriers have lessened over time (Fig 1). For example, 64% of UK shoppers would buy more if there was price parity between environmentally friendly products and standard products compared to 77% in 2010. This most likely reflects the broader choice of products available nowadays rather than just a shift in consumer perceptions, but that in itself shows how the combination of efforts on the part of manufacturers and retailers can combine with shifts in consumer sentiments to drive real change.
It all sounds good, doesn’t it? And yet the urgent updates from scientists about the state of our planet continue to describe an environment under increasing pressure from our materialistic habits. This is the fundamental disconnect between our perceived efforts to be environmentally friendly, and our ingrained consumerism. As commentators are starting to point out, sustainability isn’t just about buying the right things, it’s also about buying less.
As consumers/shoppers we still have a long way to go. And for businesses there are fundamental challenges looming.