Sustainability isn’t new. Pre-pandemic we switched to reusable and recyclable, and some of us considered solar panels in the name of sustainability. Post-pandemic our focus on sustainability is amplified, reflecting the time we had to think during lockdowns and a changed view of the way the world ‘should be’1.
What we’re not seeing yet, though, is consumers putting their money where their mouth is. Instead there’s a widening “say-do” gap – consumers say they care about sustainability but they don’t do what is needed for sustainability.
Informed by omnibus research2 and our lived experience as researchers, this blog discusses three clear reasons for this gap.
I know what sustainability is, and that’s not it
Almost all Aussies think they know something about sustainability – great start, right? Anecdotally, we know that consumers understand sustainability as more than just ‘environmentally friendly’. They know it’s coming, they know it’s inevitable. But what else do they really know?
Let’s start with a no brainer: environmentally-friendly or recyclable packaging. Only half of Aussies associated these with sustainability. Digging deeper, we see that knowledge is often surface level with low interest or capacity to learn more. Take responsible sourcing and ease of repair, for example, associated with sustainability by only one in four consumers.
Where does that leave us with our sustainable products? Go back to the old mantra – Keep it simple. Think ‘Earth’s Choice’, ‘Who Gives A Crap?’ or ‘Glad to be Green’ – the name says enough, no further info required.
Sustainability is for ‘rich’ people
I know I’m not alone in noticing that sustainable products and services are a little (and sometimes a lot) more expensive. With one in five Aussies concerned about the increasing cost of living, we should consider that consumers don’t really want to pay more for sustainability. Only three in 10 Aussies said they factor sustainability in and would pay more for products, with most of these only willing to pay ‘a little’ more. And one in three Aussies would only buy sustainable if it cost about the same as others.
The upshot? If you’re going to charge a price premium keep it minimal (with other features like-for-like). We’d love to tell you exactly how much, but this will differ by category, so do your research on this one (we can help!)
In addition, the range of sustainable products on the market can be confusing with comparisons difficult to make3. For example, we found it harder than we’d like to compare cost per 100 toilet paper sheets – with our calculators out and some Googling we found the value was there and the offer of free carbon neutral shipping appealed too. Making the benefits (cost or otherwise) easy to digest is critical.
You can’t have it all with sustainability
Is Who Gives a Crap? the softest loo roll I’ve ever used? Probably not. That’s the compromise I make – isn’t it?
I consider myself quite clever when it comes to sustainability, yet I’m guilty of believing that a sustainable choice is a compromise. Recently, my new cleaner told me “I only use essential oils, no bleach”. “Uh-oh” I thought to myself and added ‘find new cleaner’ to my mental list. Three hours later (and to this day) I stand corrected –sustainable products can do the job!
The real issue is knowing enough to judge, with one in four Aussies saying that they couldn’t judge the efficacy of sustainable products vs. others. The challenge is no different to that faced by all products and services – demonstrating to consumers that your product or service will do the job they need it to better than others. As we often suggest (because that’s what we do!), do your research – be clear about what resonates with consumers and communicate those benefits in an easy-to-understand way.
1. ‘Sustainability isn’t what it used to be.’, EY, 8 Sep 2021, https://www.ey.com/en_au/future-consumer-index/sustainability-isn-t-what-it-used-to-be
2. Courtesy of Ovation Research
3. CHOICE Survey, January 2021, as referenced https://www.ecovoice.com.au/australian-consumers-want-to-make-sustainable-choices-but-the-claims-arent-always-trustworthy/