New Report Finds “Eco-Awakening” By Consumers Globally

A new report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that overwhelmingly people around the world are seeking out sustainable goods and companies that operate that way — there has been a 71% increase in the popularity of web searches for sustainable goods over the past five years, and the percentage grew even during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The World Wildlife Fund commissioned the study and found that across developed and developing countries, consumers hold companies responsible for forcing positive change and believe that businesses must commit to protecting nature and natural systems.

Why This Matters:  When the G7’s big economic powers meet next month in the United Kingdom, both the climate and the biodiversity crisis will be on the agenda.  It will be interesting to see how far the meeting summary or joint declaration leans forward on the so-called “30×30 proposal” given the big change in the U.S.’ posture under the Biden administration.  Business leaders from these nations — or the “B7” — just completed its meeting and they recommended that the G7 nations should “prioritize the development of markets that value biodiversity, natural environments, natural carbon sinks, and nature-positive business activity” and support businesses in “quantifying their impact on nature and how to value natural assets and services.”

Global Awareness

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that consumer eco-awareness is growing not just in developed and wealthy countries, but is also pronounced in developing and emerging economies.  For example, there was an increase in demand for sustainable products (as measured by web searches) of 24% in Indonesia and an astonishing rise of 120% in Ecuador.  Similarly, according to the Global Markets Practice Leader, at WWF International, since 2016 “over 159 million people have signed online petitions in support of nature, with protests growing in strength and frequency” and amazingly “96% of survey respondents in Brazil see nature loss as a serious problem.”  Consumers in the developing world are seeing that if they buy cheap products today they will pay a price in the future as the loss of nature and the climate breakdown take their tolls.

Consumers Demand Sustainability

More and more consumers are holding businesses accountable and demanding that they drive positive change — that big brands bear as much responsibility as governments to achieving long-term sustainability.  For example, Close cites one survey in which 66% of all respondents, and 75% of millennial respondents, said they consider sustainability when making a purchase. Moreover, according to Close, in China, “41% of consumers say that they want eco-friendly products.”  This trend will only grow as social media and millennials’ come into positions of responsibility in government and business and directly increase the demand for sustainability.  On the flip side, more companies are taking note of this trend — they see that customers are switching products or services when a company violates their values.  They also see the “upside”  — that there are market opportunities for companies that brand themselves by offering eco-friendly products or speaking up against weakening of environmental protection.  For example, in the UK, the market for ethically and sustainably sourced goods increased four-fold since the year 2000 — in 2019 was worth £41 billion.

To Go Deeper: Read or listen to this blog by Cristianne Close for the World Economic Forum.

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