Sustainability has become a buzzword. From the war on plastic and saving the turtles to hashtags used by corporations, there isn’t a day that passes where it doesn’t come up in conversation, the news, or on social media. It’s a word that, for many in our global communities, evokes compassion for future generations, consideration for the impact we have on the environment, but also scepticism over brands’ glib messaging which is so often not backed up with tangible action.
The importance of this issue is not one that was dulled or deprioritised by the arrival of a global pandemic, but the opposite. With people turning to nature to escape the four walls of their house during lockdown, and stories of wildlife making a comeback in our absence, sustainability has been thrust into the limelight by Covid. From growing their own food to using reusable masks, 76% of our sample have thought more about sustainability since the pandemic. And with recent news of the gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico which has been dubbed ‘the eye of fire’, the conversation is hotting up even more.
So, how should brands respond to this increasing demand for sustainable action post-Covid when consumers are trained to spot inauthenticity and apathy? Here’s what our community had to say…
A pandemic of plastic?
With all the single use plastic that Covid has made necessary, one might think that enthusiasm towards reusing and recycling has lessened as a result of the pandemic. And, to some extent this is true; 38% of our sample have bought plastic products they wouldn’t have done before the outbreak.
However, from the claustrophobia of lockdown grew a love of nature, and our community have cultivated this newfound appreciation of the great outdoors through sustainability. 30% said they weren’t thinking about sustainability before the pandemic, and watching documentaries in lockdown and spending more time on social media changed this. 43% are recycling more, 43% are buying fewer clothes and other non-food related purchases, and 40% are shopping less frequently than before the pandemic. 76% are more interested in sustainability since the pandemic and 89% support reusable masks as opposed to disposable ones. And these behaviours aren’t going anywhere – now lockdown is easing, 86% are continuing to implement sustainable swaps and actions.
“During the pandemic, Australia and California caught on fire more than usual due to human interference. In addition, the lack of human activities outside reduced pollution.”
Bulbshare User, Nonbinary, 21, US
“I believe that people have stopped being satisfied and want more and more, we respect nothing, neither environment nor nature, which are beautiful things.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 58, Italy
“Due to Covid, I have had more time to research and check products etc.”
Bulbshare User, Female 22, UK
"Due to the stay at home order, I've become more engrossed in the environment. Brands will need to be sustainably conscious.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 40, US
What does ‘sustainability’ mean to our consumers?
But what does sustainability really mean to consumers? When asked, 44% of our sample said sustainability was very important to them and 31% said it was mostly important. This is expressed via numerous methods, including 75% of consumers reducing their plastic usage, 46% opting for locally sourced products, 39% avoiding fast fashion, 80% recycling, 31% opting to cycle rather than drive, and 55% trying to save water and use less energy.
“To me it means living a minimalist lifestyle, with little effect on your surroundings. Buying products that can be recycled. Buying products that produce little or no waste. On the industrial side, a great example would be loggers planting two trees for every one they cut down.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 41, UK
“I try to recycle my clothes, I sell them, the gift or I fix myself to take care of the environment.”
Bulbshare User, Female, 33, Mexico
“It means being conscious of the products you use and how they affect the environment.”
Bulbshare User, Female, 21, Poland
“I limit my frequency in the car and walk from time to time.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 47, France
Similarly, those surveyed were keen to implement small changes, including paying for reusable bags in the supermarket and investing in water bottles that aren’t made from single use plastics. However, one swap that has become less popular as a result of the pandemic is public transport – which is normally advocated for as a sustainable solution to driving. In comparison to the high percentages in favour of reusable straws and food containers, public transport was the least popular.
The journey to sustainable transport
Despite the slightly more apathetic response to public transport, there was a definitive move away from flying via plane. 59% are less likely to catch a flight now, 32% are more likely to get a train than a plane, but 32% said it is Covid, not sustainability, that is affecting their decision. However, 11% are more inclined to travel after so long stuck indoors.
Similarly, the move away from public transport may be due to the increasing interest in electric cars, with 90% of our respondents expressing a positive opinion on them.
Individual action or corporation changes?
As CIO says, ‘Walk, take public transport, turn the lights off, buy less meat. These are all good ideas if you want to do them, but the idea of the sustainable individual has become an ethical fetish. […] Instead, it is better to adopt an approach of changing consumer behaviour by proxy – work with the major corporations and suppliers to accelerate their move to sustainable practices.’ Instead of focusing on individual action, consumers want wide scale change from organisations.
Our panel were interested in authenticity from brands, and many cited ‘honesty’ as a crucial step in the right direction. They didn’t want insincere messaging – and certainly didn’t want to be ‘preached to’ about how the individual can make a difference. What consumers wanted to see from brands was ‘implementation of what they say’: transparency, action and accountability. Hence, 65% said they prefer to shop with brands who have a clear sustainability promise.
“I am fed up with companies pretending to care about the environment while polluting it more than any fly tipper on earth ever could.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 23, UK
“Implementation of what they say… If they are going to do things they should do them!”
Bulbshare User, Female, 38, US
“Truth and responsibility for product fate from ‘cradle to grave’, ie, recovery and recycling and/or repurposing.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 64, Australia
“It's authenticity gets my attention more.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 35, UK
“I want them to be honest.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 22, Australia
“Brands need to put their own house in order before preaching to me. Make the products locally, pay your workers a decent salary, use renewable energy in your factories and offices and electric vehicles to deliver your goods to the shops then you can talk to me about sustainability.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 53, UK
Brands getting it right…
Our consumers struggled to cite any brands who were taking sustainability seriously. Some said H&M, Body Shop, Vivobarefoot, Nomads, eBay and Kijiji, though many said they were ‘unsure’ or were ‘disappointed’ with the level of commitment brands had shown. Evidently, companies have a long way to go on either their sustainable pledges or their marketing of them.
“I think everything starts with small steps and then big steps.”
Bulbshare User, Female, 25, Poland
“I like to shop with those brands that care about the environment, not just profit.”
Bulbshare User, Male, US, 29
“Nomads, Body shop, Vivobarefoot.”
Bulbshare User, Female, 48, UK
“Kijiji and eBay because they facilitate secondary markets for previously owned products.”
Bulbshare User, Male, 64, Canada
Our community is a general population sample made up of 1,084 participants. The sample is divided into 21.8% UK participants, 15% US participants, 4.9% Canadian participants, 6.1% Italian participants, 7.6% Polish participants, 4.9% Mexican participants, 11.2% Malaysian participants, 6.6% French participants, 11.1% Australian participants, and 1.5% Saudi Arabian participants. The panel is 56.1% female, 37.6% male and 4.8% non-binary or other. 11.5% are 16-25, 34.7% are 26-35, 42% are 36-50, and 10.5% are 51+.