Conscious consumerism is no longer just a buzzword

The statistics behind an evolving consumer landscape

By Renee Fortune

Not too long ago, the term ‘conscious consumerism’ was bandied around boardrooms and over kitchen tables by early adopters who hoped that some day what was regarded as a trend would go mainstream. It’s all sustainable brands could hope for – that the number of people who are uncompromisingly discerning about the brands they support, and the products they buy, grows to become a thriving network. 

There is a general, prevailing sense that more consumers are joining the fray and appreciating their agency as individuals. But recent research suggests that this is more than just a hunch – the landscape of consumerism is changing, slowly but surely, and the statistics can provide the proof.

Findings by the annual Consumer Spending Index conducted by TD Bank paint the picture of evolving consumer demands, driven by the attitudes and perceptions of younger generations. 

According to the Index, almost 60% of Americans consider themselves to be conscious consumers. As the study illustrated, this prevailing sense of making more ‘conscious’ buying decisions includes several dimensions of sustainability, including ecological impact, diversity, local manufacturing, ethical product sourcing and the fair treatment of artisans and workers. 

This sentiment is particularly acute amongst Millennials, with one-fifth of Millennial respondents saying that diversity has a major influence on where they spend their money. Businesses owned by women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour, take preference. This same trend was found within the Gen Z generation, more so than in Gen X or amongst Baby Boomers.

Furthermore, about one-quarter of Millennials take a company’s political stance and position on social issues into consideration when they shop – an indication that personal values are being brought into the realm of consumerism more than ever before. 

This same trend is apparent in other markets. For the third year, Deloitte UK has conducted a survey that measures consumers attitudes and behaviour around sustainability. The 2022 edition of the survey revealed that consumers are faced with fewer choices and opportunities due to the impact of inflation and supply chain disruptions. As a result, more consumers are finding creative ways to spend less (by recycling, repairing and choosing better quality products for example) and adopt more sustainable lifestyles. 
Some of the key insights that emerged from the 2022 study was that more consumers of fashion and footwear products are ‘shopping with a conscience.’ This is both a product of financial pressure caused by geopolitical tensions and macroeconomic factors, as well as a reflection of the move towards building a greener future. 

According to the study, more consumers are reducing the number of garments they buy year-on-year, opting for secondhand clothing, fixing their clothes instead of discarding them, and choosing brands based on their sustainability and ethical practices. In general, the concept of circularity is taking hold in public discourse and becoming increasingly pervasive in terms of determining consumer behaviour. Half of the survey respondents to Deloitte's study indicated that they would repair an item instead of replacing it, while 40% bought secondhand or refurbished goods over the last year, and 38% paid more for a more durable and longer lasting product. 

Some of the practices that consumers value include “producing sustainable packaging and products, reducing waste in manufacturing processes, reducing carbon footprint, respecting human rights and committing to ethical working practices.”

In the Middle East, a similar picture is emerging. According to PwC’s latest Global Consumer Insights Survey, the region’s shoppers are leading the charge in terms of their stance on ESG (Environment, Social and Governance), by supporting brands and businesses that have good environmental records. 

In contrast to data collected on US audiences, Gen X is ahead of the sustainability game in the Middle East when it comes to how they make buying decisions. 65% of Gen X respondents to the PwC survey in the Middle East say that social considerations influence whether they would recommend a brand or company, compared to 50% of Gen Zs. Similarly, Gen X consumers are generally more likely to instill confidence in a brand because of their environmental practices than their younger counterparts. 

The ripple effect of these changes in consumer demand is that both B2C and B2B brands are looking to find ways to realign their purposes and values with ESG factors in order to broaden their customer base. 

While the building of new business models according to sustainability practices is something that requires substantial investment and several fundamental shifts in policy, larger brands are looking to niche businesses for direction on how to ‘green up’ and ‘show’ up for the world. 

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