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Covid’s Spurring Consumers to Go Green. Will Brands Seize This Opportunity?

It’s no secret that shoppers have become more conscious about the environmental impacts of their purchasing habits post-pandemic. But Kearney’s Earth Day consumer study reveals just how much consumers have internalized these feelings of concern in recent months.

On Thursday, the global management consulting firm unveiled new data showing, concretely, that the Covid crisis is driving environmental awareness. A full 40 percent of consumers feel more anxious about their ecological footprint than they did pre-coronavirus, and even more (46 percent) are more likely to purchase earth-saving products as a result, Kearney found.

Brands have adopted a multitude of sustainability-driven strategies, according to Katie Thomas, a lead at Kearney’s Consumer Institute, and a “‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work” with a global consumer base “made up of various communities and cohorts.”

“Identifying and tapping into key consumer community indicators, from recycling to plant-based meat to resale clothing to commuting and travel, can increase impact,” she added.

Kearney’s research focused on the adoption of plant-based options across sectors, ranging from food to household goods and apparel options made from a growing array of organic, cellulosic and bio-based materials. According to the data, the vast majority (76 percent) of shoppers are considering buying plant-derived products in the coming months, with food (37 percent), clothing (18 percent) and personal care items (16 percent) most markedly piquing their interest. Two-fifths (40 percent) of shoppers said they were “very likely” to spring for these products in the near future.

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A desire to protect the environment is largely catalyzing these shifting appetites, with 66 percent of shoppers asserting that they were considering a switch in their consumption habits because of the perceived earthly benefits of going green. The vast majority (82 percent) of respondents said they believe these options to be more, or at least as sustainable, as other products on the market. More than one-third (36 percent) of shoppers even said they would count themselves more loyal to brands that expanded their selection to include plant-based offerings, with shoppers ages 25-44 leading the charge.

Some consumers are still dubious about the need to make the switch, however, with one-quarter (25 percent) saying that they were “not at all” likely to make a plant-based buy anytime soon. Price was a top concern for them, Thomas said, with more than half (53 percent) indicating that the cost of plant-based products like apparel could put them off from purchasing. “Consumers are willing to make small tradeoffs for health and sustainability,” she added, but products must appeal to their sensibilities and fit into their budgetary constraints.

Another issue hampering the acceptance of green products has to do with the way they’re introduced to shoppers, she said. When rolling out new sustainability initiatives, “companies have a tendency to put the onus, and the blame, on consumers” for not stepping up and doing their part to recycle packaging or participate in an upcycling scheme, for example. “Ultimately, if they need consumer participation for the program to have a meaningful impact, they need to make it easy or logical for the consumer,” she said.

Shoppers’ individual reasons and rationales for backing certain sustainability strategies may vary, she added, but brands can count on one thing: “They will often choose the path of least resistance.” In order to encourage adoption, brands must remove points of friction, such as higher prices for green options, inconvenience to shoppers’ existing routines, and confusing messaging.

Consumers can also become overwhelmed by the challenge of finding eco-friendly products like apparel, Thomas added, and it’s important for sustainability-driven brands to team up with peers in the space that are already known and trusted. “Recent partnerships and new products and brands at leading retailers provide consumers with increased awareness and accessibility to these alternatives,” she said, which consumers may not have otherwise tracked down on their own. Curating these products in a concise and logical way makes it “that much easier for consumers to achieve their own personal sustainability goals,” she added.