The environment should be an economic priority even if it leads to slower growth, and companies that fail to adapt their business models will face consumer backlash, according to findings of the latest ING International Survey. The sum of the report is as follows and it’s an important one for marketing and branding agencies in America and Europe to follow and understand:
- Consumers widely agree on the need to go green, but behaviour is slow to change
- Similar numbers named plastic waste (29%) and climate change (34%) as most pressing environmental problems
- Three-in-five (60%) agree protecting environment should be given priority, even if it slows economic growth
- Companies that don’t adapt business models to limit environmental impact will experience consumer backlash, say half (53%) of Americans, although a good price is a top priority for 90% of shoppers
- 91% say they throw away plastic waste daily, 82% throw away up to five items each day
A majority (60%) of US respondents* agree with the suggestion that slower growth would be a price worth paying to protect the environment, while despite price being of key importance when shopping for homewares, 53% of Americans agree that companies that don’t take steps to go green will experience consumer backlash over time.
“While it’s clear that awareness of environmental challenges is high, this has not yet been met with a corresponding level of behavioural change. While consumers are conscious of the urgency of the problem at hand, our survey results suggest, unsurprisingly, that awareness and information doesn’t automatically translate into changed habits or behaviours,” says Jessica Exton, Behavioural Scientist, ING. “The short and long-term impacts of context-dependent choices aren’t easy to calculate, making decision-making on a day-to-day basis challenging.”
The results come amid growing calls to action from movements such as Greta Thunberg’s climate change campaign, and the proposed Green New Deal.
Slow to react
Many consumers say they already support a movement towards a circular economy by reducing, reusing and recycling products. The survey also suggests consumers are willing to bear some of the cost of sustainability. Repairing a broken fridge makes sense for half of Americans, if the repair costs up to 40% of a new replacement.
But attitudes towards the circular economy differ across countries. In the US 39% said the offer of a financial incentive wouldn’t change their recycling behaviour. A similar number to those who said so in Turkey (36%), but a small group compared to the 63% who said no to a reward in Luxembourg. Discrepancies in local circular activities may be partially explained by established local norms – both cultural and social – and access to recycling and repair facilities, as well as contextual influences such as how fast items can be repaired and the perceived value of doing so.
Most respondents also acknowledged the problem of over-consumption in their home countries, with 64% of Americans, 69% of Europeans, and 60% of Australians saying people in their country are excessively focused on consumption.
In ING’s 2018 IIS survey on sustainability, consumers pointed to cost and a lack of knowledge as key barriers to changing their behaviour. This year’s findings verify the challenge of turning attitudes into action. Despite one-in-three (34%) naming climate change as the greatest environmental challenge we face, only half (53%) say they always separate their waste at home, lagging behind the European average of 76%. A quarter (25%) of Americans say they never separate their waste.
At the same time, consumers recognise that initiatives from businesses and broader structural change will be needed if individual efforts are to have a coordinated impact. Supermarkets should not provide any single use plastic packaging or plastic bags, say 44% of US respondents. The perception is that businesses have been slow to respond to such consumer demands. Less than a third (30%) of US respondents could name a company that has changed how it operated to reuse and repair its products, but optimistically, only 31% of respondents* expect the amount of plastic used to package food produce to increase, 58%* expect it to decrease.