EY Future Consumer Index – Emerging prioritisation of Sustainability

5th July 2021

Posted In: The Topic

Today (5th July, 2021), EY Ireland released findings from the 7th edition of the EY Future Consumer Index where globally, levels of concern among consumers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are moderating slightly.  Thirty-nine percent of the 14,047 consumers surveyed believe the health crisis will continue to impact their lives for at least another 12 months, down from 40% in February 2021.

A key emerging trend is the prioritisation of sustainability, which comes at a time when consumers are also re-evaluating other areas of their lives, including affordability.

Most consumers (64%) plan to pay more attention to the environmental impact of what they consume, but 60% intend to focus more on value for money. This creates a tension over who should pay for sustainability.

Sustainability gap between intention and action

Overall, 64% of consumers continue to spend more time at home than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Homes have become a hub from which people work, order deliveries, exercise and stay entertained, presenting a huge opportunity for them to pivot to sustainable choices that positively impact the environment and society.

Thirty-one percent of respondents say they now spend more on products that are sustainable and better for the environment, and 64% are prepared to behave differently if it benefits society.

However, 78% of consumers are concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their finances and 53% say price is a more important purchase consideration than before the pandemic, threatening the longevity of positive attitudes toward sustainable behaviours.

Rather than make significant financial commitments toward helping achieve bigger societal goals around sustainability, many consumers are pursuing low-impact, no-cost actions that save them money.

Indeed, over half of respondents (56%) say they mainly adopt sustainable behaviours if it saves them money, notably in relation to key consumer household activities, including conserving energy use (85%), recycling or reusing packaging after use (83%) and bringing reusable shopping bags to the store (83%).

Yvonne Kiely Head of EY-Seren, EY Ireland (pictured), says: “Our research shows that there has been a perceptible shift in consumers wanting to change their buying behaviours to be more “sustainable”. However they are also aware of the sometimes greater cost of buying the product or service that is the better option for the environment. We know that Irish saving accounts have accumulated around €12 billion during the pandemic, so encouraging consumers to play their part in ensuring a sustainable recovery for Ireland will be essential and companies have an important role in guiding consumers so the gap we’re seeing between good intention and consumer action can be closed.”

Who will pay for sustainability?

This lack of financial commitment means that most consumers (68%) rely on companies to act as leaders in driving positive social and environmental outcomes.

Consumers believe that companies have the ability to make a bigger impact through market-transformative, sustainable-focused processes and innovation: 28% believe that large multinational corporations should reduce waste generated during production and 25% believe companies should reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The EY Future Consumer Index also finds that there is a sustainability education gap among consumers: 61% say they need more information to make better choices when shopping.

This reveals an increased reliance and need for transparency from consumer products companies and retailers to help lead and guide consumers in making sustainable choices. As a result, sustainable products and services face perception challenges, with many consumers deterred by concerns around poor quality (67%) and high prices (66%), and lack of trust due to past “greenwashing” and alleged deceptive marketing (60%).

Yvonne added,

“It’s really encouraging that consumer behaviours have now turned a corner and the intent is there to buy “green”, however in order to effect real change, businesses need to truly embrace sustainability.

That means making sure their supply chains and processes are as sustainable as possible and that this is made clear to the consumer so they can make an informed choice, as well as ensuring products and services offered are as cost-competitive as possible – challenging the view that items that are sustainable will always have a premium price tag.”

Sustainability perceptions vary by market

According to the Index, when asked which sustainability issues personally concern them most, there is some disparity between consumer respondents across the world: plastic waste is the biggest concern in the US (62%) and the UK (73%), while air pollution is the top concern in China and water pollution ranks highest in Brazil (93%).

This indicates that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for companies, and that they will need to consider regional nuances when looking to tackle sustainability issues.

Head of Sustainability at EY Ireland Stephen Prendiville commented:

 “Consumers want to be more sustainable and companies need to be more sustainable.

We need to arm both with complete and transparent information, and we need to reduce the physical and non-physical barriers in the relationship. Everything from advertising standards to retail space design should be on the table for consideration to create frictionless opportunities for sustainable choices.”

The latest edition of the EY Future Consumer Index is available at ey.com/futureconsumerindex7.