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Covid Hasn’t Dampened Consumer Appetite for Sustainability, Survey Says

COVID-19 may have torn up the retail landscape and reshaped it in long-lasting—and perhaps even permanent—ways, but U.S. consumers’ enthusiasm for doing better by the planet remains unabated, a new survey claims. If anything, sustainability has grown from a “fringe preference” to a “core imperative across American life,” according to a Method Research poll of 2,000 adults nationwide.

Commissioned by biotechnology firm Genomatica, the survey found that sustainability is now a “top-of-mind issue,” with 85 percent of respondents reporting that they’ve been thinking about sustainability the same amount or more during the pandemic. They’re observing less traffic (45 percent), cleaner air (42 percent) and more plastic waste (40 percent). They’re also advocating for action: More than half (56 percent) of Americans say they want both the government and brands to prioritize the environment.

A number appear to have made the link between planetary health and human health, with 86 percent of respondents saying sustainability will be equally or more important when the pandemic tapers off. Nearly half (48 percent) of those who have been more sustainable during lockdown say they’re inspired to find new ways to keep being sustainable; 42 percent admit that that being sustainable was easier than they thought.

The adoption of more sustainable behaviors, in many cases, was born more out of circumstance than choice. Americans who have “been more sustainable” in the past few months, for instance, say it’s because they’re driving less (68 percent), pulling back on shopping (54 percent), throwing fewer things away (42 percent), not commuting (41 percent) and flying less (37 percent). But one in three of those who have behaved more sustainably lately also say it’s because they’re buying more better-for-the-planet products.

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And if eco-friendlier items are more expensive, so be it. More than one-third (37 percent) of those polled say they’re willing to shell out a little more for sustainable products, even in the shadow of a recession. That intent cuts across social economic groups: 43 percent of Americans who have been laid off, furloughed or otherwise seen their employment disrupted say they would do the same. Sustainability even bridges the country’s ideological chasm, with nearly half (46 percent) of Republicans saying that the government should continue to prioritize sustainability. (Fox News afficionados, Genomatica noted, are as likely as anyone else to say the pandemic has nudged them to be more sustainable on a personal level.)

“The collective consciousness on sustainability is rising, and certainly faster than most would have expected during these unprecedented times,” Christophe Schilling, CEO of Genomatica, said in a statement. “While this shift has been underway for decades, and particularly strong in Europe, many of us in the U.S. have been inspired by the rapid improvement in air quality and traffic that shine a bright light on how our behaviors and decisions impact our environment and quality of life.”

Sustainability, he added, may be the silver lining of a colossal storm cloud.

“As brands are learning, Americans are increasingly spending in line with their values, fueling a ray of hope in a tough year,” Schilling said.