The No. 1 reason consumers don’t buy sustainable products is …

Consumer enthusiasm for sustainable commerce may be tepid.

A new survey suggests that several factors can hamper sustainable buying choices and behaviors by consumers.

Unaffordable “green” products and inaccessible or unreliable product data are reducing commitment to sustainable shopping, according to a survey of consumers across the U.S., U.K. and Germany by environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) software, data and consulting firm Sphera,

Three in 10 (31%) respondents said the high cost of sustainable products is the biggest barrier to sustainable behavior change, and only 20% would definitely pay a premium for sustainable products. In addition, only 30% of respondents now avoid unsustainable brands, although 44% say they would “probably” pay a premium for green products.

Access to reliable sustainability information emerged as the second biggest barrier to sustainable consumer behavior, with just one in 10 respondents saying it is very easy to obtain reliable sustainability information.

Fewer than one in four (23%) respondents said they are “highly committed to sustainable behavior change,” including only 18% in the 18-24-year-old age range. However, more than half (56%) of all respondents are “somewhat committed” to sustainable behaviors. 

A Gen Z surprise

Interestingly, while Gen Z is often seen as a generation deeply committed to environmental sustainability, only 20% of 18-24-year-old respondents said they are extremely concerned about the climate crisis and the need for greater sustainability and net zero emissions – the lowest proportion among all age groups. Close to six in 10 (58%) of Gen Z respondents said they are somewhat concerned about the climate.

Gen Z is also the respondent age group most likely to say they can only make a difference if “business plays its part too.” Only 10% of all respondents reported having complete trust in business sustainability promises, and less than half (48%) believe net-zero targets are still achievable.

Skepticism beats activism

The survey also reveals consumer skepticism over sustainability issues is much more common than activism. Fewer than four in 10 (38%) respondents say they completely believe humans contribute to climate change, a proportion that is similar across all three countries where the survey was conducted.

While 43% of respondents believe in man-made climate change “to some extent,” Sphera analysis indicates this means that doubts over climate science are also impacting sustainable consumer behavior. The survey also reveals consumer activism is increasingly confined to a small minority, with only 7% of respondents having regularly boycotted brands over sustainability issues in the last two years and only 13% saying sustainability is now the primary factor in choosing a brand.

Although 18% of respondents said they avoided “a few” unsustainable brands and 56% said sustainability is important among other factors when buying products, Sphera said it appears that few consumers consistently adopt green purchasing habits.

Other notable findings include:

  • Thirty-eight percent of respondents agreed, at least somewhat, that the behavior of others influences their willingness to make sustainable choices.
  • Of the 20% of respondents willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, 27% would only pay between 1% to 5% extra.
  • Fewer than one in five (18%) consumer respondents described themselves as very knowledgeable about sustainability, climate change and net zero.

Interestingly, the recent annual Global Sustainability Study 2022 by pricing advisory firm Simon-Kucher & Partners showed much more interest on the part of U.S. consumers in participating in sustainable commerce.

To download the full report, “Consumer Landscape: The State of Ethical Consumerism,” click here. Sphera surveyed a representative sample of 1,200 consumers, split evenly across Germany, the U.K. and U.S., the three biggest Western economies with the largest carbon footprint.

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