With today marking Earth Day 2021, a new study by Accenture has suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified interest in 'conscious consumption', challenging retailers and consumer goods forums to rethink their post-pandemic strategies.
“The pandemic is making consumers think more about the impact their purchasing decisions are having on the environment and society at large,” commented Oliver Wright, senior managing director and global lead of Accenture’s consumer goods industry group.
According to Accenture's study, half of consumers do not currently have a good understanding of which brands are sustainable/ethical, and which aren't, with seven in ten supporting a mandatory, but simple, labelling standard, such as a traffic light indicator.
In addition, two thirds of consumers (65%) believe that legislation should be introduced to promote conscious consumption – an example of which would be charging for plastic bags – while 69% of consumers believe brands should do more to make it easier to consume more consciously.
Elsewhere, a third of respondents said that they don't have a good understanding on what products they can and cannot recycle.
As Wright added, consumers have heightened their focus on areas such as "the provenance of ingredients and raw materials, working practices [and] the environmental impact of finished products and packaging", as well as greater collaboration between industry actors.
This latest piece of research supports Accenture's previous findings that the shift in 'conscious consumption' is likely to remain or accelerate further.
As of April last year, 64% of consumers said they planned to focus more on limiting food waste and will likely continue to do so going forward. In December 2020, this number jumped to 72%.
In addition, in April 2020, half (50%) of consumers said that they are shopping more health consciously, and will likely continue to do so in the future. This number increased to 68% of consumers as of December 2020.
In addition, firms are now under increased pressure to deliver targets in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, while also mitigating the long-term impact of COVID-19.
Methods being employed by firms, according to Accenture, include reducing operational environmental footprint by adopting water recycling and grey water utilisation; implementing net-zero goals; understanding product disposal impacts; implementing circular business models to reduce product and packaging waste and promote responsible consumption; and building robust and inclusive value chains.
"People’s values are increasingly becoming infused in their shopping habits as consumers think more about balancing what they buy, and how they spend their time, with global issues of sustainability," said Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global retail industry group.
"This calls for retailers to be authentic and to pay attention to what each community they serve really cares about."