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Companies to face mounting consumer pressure on sustainability

Gaelle Walker
05 July 2021

The consumer pressure on companies to boost their sustainability efforts looks set to continue mounting in the coming months, newly-released data from Mintel’s Sustainability Barometer suggests.

Almost half (48%) of global consumers believe that companies are responsible for increasing the amount of packaging that is recycled, while only 25% believe that responsibility lies with consumers and just 20% believe that it lies with governments.

When it comes to the types of companies that consumers believe should be held most accountable for protecting the environment, just under 20% think that skincare and haircare product manufacturers should be held most responsible, narrowly behind physical supermarkets and online retailers, household product manufacturers and packaged meat and fish manufacturers.

The passenger transport sector (including airlines and rail operators) topped the list of company types that consumers think should be held most accountable for protecting the environment.

Mintel Consulting senior trends consultant Richard Cope said: “Our research shows consumers say companies are most responsible.

"There are several possible reasons why consumers are putting the onus on companies: More effective activism, for example, promotes the belief that companies are to blame - whilst the sheer scale of the problem demands a response that feels beyond the capabilities of mere consumers.

“Educating consumers about sustainability should help increase their engagement, as there seems to be a sustainability gap - a striking difference between consumers’ experience with the causes of climate change and the reality of where the responsibilities lie.

“More companies need to take the lead in asserting their positive credentials, but also in explaining what they view as the real societal problems—as well as their main business challenges.”

Mintel’s Sustainability Barometer also highlights the growing consumer desire for companies to use simple, measurable terms or initiatives to explain the environmental impact of their purchases.

When asked what encouraged them to buy products which claimed to protect the environment, products which allowed consumers to quickly and simply understand their personal impact scored most highly with consumers - such as one tree planted per purchase (48%).

Consumers are also increasingly seeking out labelling which highlights a product’s environmental impact, such as CO2 emitted, litres of water used, or distance travelled in kilometres.

Meanwhile, 41% of consumers are also looking for recognisable certification such as B-corp.

When it comes to buying soap products in particular, 43% of consumers say they now also look for products which do not contain ingredients or chemicals that are harmful to the environment (such as microplastics or glitter) while 35% look for products sold in minimal or recyclable packaging.

“Consumers want companies to use simple terms and data, and to explain the direct and measurable environmental impact of their purchases,” Cope added.

“To build belief in science and convert potential into actual purchases, companies need to offer up a new sustainability lexicon that consumers can easily understand.

“In addition to wanting third party accreditation, it’s notable that consumers want to understand their personal impact through purchasing in order to support their belief that their purchases can have a positive impact on the environment.”

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