Conscious consumption on the part of individuals will continue to grow. But take note – citizens are waking up to the knowledge that individual action alone will not get us to a net zero world. This will place increasing demand on brands to step up and ease the way for the transition of our society to a more sustainable future, says Helen Brain, Strategy Director & Joint Head of Social Change Hub at MediaCom UK.

Globally, the most environmentally conscious consumers are worth $382 billion to the FMCG sector alone, and became more valuable by c$78 bn in the last year. We can also see growth and innovation coming from plenty of other sectors. For example:

  • The worldwide natural and organic beauty market is forecasting a growth rate of 3% 2018-2028.
  • Electric car sales continue to rise, with 6.6% of all new vehicles registered in 2020 being zero-emission, up from 1.6% in 2019 and 0.7% in 2018. This means that 17.5% of all cars registered last year were zero-emissions capable vs. 7.4% in 2019.
  • By 2028 the used-fashion market is set to skyrocket to $64 billion in the US, with fast-fashion at ‘just’ $44 billion.

Plus new products and services will create incremental growth on top, just look at lab-grown meat – sounds like science fiction, but it’s expected to be on shelves within the next 18 months (and likely to be cheaper than animal protein by 2035), with 20 companies in Europe alone working on development. Or look at major brands such as John Lewis and Ikea getting into the resale market.

Clearly the most conscious consumers are already changing their behaviour. But are the majority?

Globally, at least 50% (depending on the survey) of people have a great desire to change their lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly, but only 25% have major changes in the past year to be so. Most people want to be more sustainable, but they either find it hard or feel like they must make a sacrifice, creating an uncomfortable gap between values and action.

Source: Globescan

We could provide more motivation, but if the constant stream of news telling us that we’re boiling our planet, that we are causing fires and floods, and that our children will never forgive us isn’t changing people’s behaviour – then it’s clear we need to change tact.

This means brands focussing on how to make it easier for people to live with a lighter footprint. Affordability in
particular, is key. The sustainable living trend has been heavily connected to privilege and income in the western world, and yet the number one action that people want companies to take to enable sustainable living is to make more affordable products and services, and we can already see successes in making sustainable living easier and more affordable coming from the investment brands are making in packaging to ensure it is easy to reuse and/or recycle.

Sustainable living offers a clear opportunity for brand growth and risk management.

We know that there is growth coming from sectors and brands who are ahead here, and part of that is down to the impact sustainably has on the bottom line – 77% of corporate product and retail organisations indicate that sustainability leads to increases in customer loyalty, while 63% say it increases revenue.

When it comes to employee engagement and the attached risk management, it is worth noting that 80% of companies expect a rise in employee activism, with 40% having already spoken up to support or criticise employers actions.

This is extremely pertinent for brands from a marketing perspective not just as employers.

Employees of brands are our family, friends and community. Brands cannot and should not separate people out into their modes of being – employee vs shopper vs advocate, but instead recognise that we are all things, and all times.  

To truly win with the conscious consumer (which remember, most of us want to be) brands need to consider:

  • Inclusivity: what are the barriers that stop people from making the most sustainable choice with your brand or category?
  • Education: how can you make it easy for people to recognize and therefore make the more sustainable choice?
  • Trust: are you willing to be honest about what you are doing as a brand and where your ‘areas to work on’ are?
  • Inside out: and are you working with your conscious employees to identify areas to fix them and communicate about them?

In short, conscious consumption is only going to grow. There is huge opportunity for brands who are first in their category to make sustainable consumption easy and affordable for all their customers and employees.