From packaging to supply chains to recycling behaviours – staying environmentally ethical can, at times, feel like a full-time endeavour. Yet more and more people are putting in the effort to be eco with estimates suggesting that the most eco-minded consumers are already worth £37bn to the British grocery market and by 2030 will represent 62 per cent of the British population.

Where these eco-pioneers lead, others do and will follow, so businesses and brands need to be aware that they are already moving on; for them brand sustainability is already old hat and ‘regeneration’ is where it’s at. From finding clever ways to participate in the circular economy, to innovating new products and materials that don’t actively contribute to planetary destruction, brands that are proving to consumers that they are seriously invested in the future of the planet are set to win over the next few years.

So, how can businesses and brands successfully tap into this valuable and growing set of consumers?

The answer lies in understanding and responding to three big consumer behaviour trends: ‘Massive Action’, ‘Frictionless Responsibility’ and ‘Eco Acceleration’.

Massive Action

Definition: Individuals want to see brands and governments put their weight behind collective efforts to mitigate climate change.

From Extinction Rebellion to Greta Thunberg to hunger strikes and sit-ins, climate activism has become hyper-visible – influencing public sentiment, informing non-activists, and keeping climate concerns in the news cycle alongside the cycle of disasters/emergencies. More people are invested in taking meaningful action, with 38 per cent of of consumers saying they’ve “actively engaged” within the last 12 months —signing a petition, attending a protest, or donating and campaigning for a cause. 

According to 75 per cent of young Britons, it’s our economic system that is a foundational driver behind the climate crisis and we are increasingly seeing climate concerns intertwined with wider concerns around justice, equality, and governance.

It marks a shift from individual actions to a belief that governments and brands have far bigger, collective responsibilities in solving the climate crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has only served to underline the importance of large-scale adaptation and global action: expectations that consumers are taking forward as they contend with the existential threat of climate disasters that are increasing in frequency and severity – with 160 million people’s lives threatened by extreme weather events each year.

And with 82 per cent of people in advanced economies saying they’re willing to change how they live and work to help reduce the effects of climate change, according to the Pew Research Centre, there’s ample encouragement for brands to ride the wave of consumer support and willingness in this space. It’s time for massive action.

Frictionless Responsibility

Definition: Consumers want brands to take the guesswork out and make sustainable choices as easy as possible.

Consumers are looking for brands to deliver services and products that satisfy multiple needs and make being responsible part of the commercial exchange. There are rewards for brands who can streamline sustainability and create more sustainable models of consumption including subscriptions, borrowing plans, mending schemes etc.

And while many sustainable brands find themselves ‘preaching to the converted,’ there’s ample opportunity for businesses to win over the 22 per cent of consumers who say they aren’t interested in adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. The concept of ‘hedonistic sustainability,’ coined by “starchitect” Bjarke Ingels, means threading sustainability throughout a core focus on thrills and enjoyment, so that messaging doesn’t rely on the halo effect of good ethics alone. For example, body wash brand Plus uses the novelty of “magic packaging” – made from FSC-sourced wood pulp printed with non-toxic, bio-renewable ink, that seems to magically disappear down the drain – to make adopting a zero-waste, plastic-free lifestyle fresh and fun.

Shifting the focus of ‘hedonistic sustainability’ can help mitigate both eco-anxiety and decision-making fatigue, while getting those without activist mindsets on board.

Eco Acceleration

Definition: People want innovation to reflect the scale of the crisis. With 22 per cent of Gen Zers saying they’re ready to “rebuild society from the ground up” there’s a growing appetite for radical change.

Investment into sustainable materials and circular supply chains plays well with future-facing consumers. For example, Adidas and Stella McCartney are the first two brands to embrace Mylo, a lab-grown leather alternative based on fungi filaments, and Econyl, a type of nylon made from ocean plastics and other post-consumer waste. 

Where 56 per cent of global consumers feel that too many brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy to sell products, investment into regenerative materials and processes will help brands signal that they’re making changes where it matters. For example, while organic and sustainable foods have become a common sight in grocery stores, eco-consumers want to see a shift to regenerative farming which is seen as an upgrade to the benefits of organic foods. Using less energy and water, plus a reduced carbon dioxide impact, the agricultural method is promising both health and climate advantages and is viewed as an acceleration of existing farming commitments.

With customers switching products or services when a company violates their values, businesses can no longer rest on their laurels. People want to see innovation, action and then more action.

Alex Quicho is head of cultural intelligence at Canvas, where Tom Novak is a senior behavioural analyst.

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