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Sustainability is Starting to Make Inroads With Consumer Buying Decisions, New Survey Reveals

Many brands have pushed their sustainability quotient in recent years as both an important environmental goal and a marketing tool, and it seems to be paying off.

More than two-thirds of respondents to the new 2019 Retail and Sustainability Survey survey from CGS, a provider of business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services, said they consider sustainability when making a purchase, and are willing to pay more for it.

And as they enter the consumer purchasing market, the study also found that, Gen Z shoppers make up some of the most socially-conscious buyers, with 68 percent having made an eco-friendly purchase in the past year.

CGS surveyed more than 1,000 people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 65 on to what degree sustainable products and business practices are driving their purchasing preferences. While price remained a key factor, at 62 percent, in making decisions on what they buy, consumers are putting an emphasis on sustainability and are becoming more focused on shopping with brands with a mission they care about. Availability and material/fabric each registered 34 percent as factors influencing purchasing decisions.

Specifically, 34 percent of respondents said they would pay 25 percent more for products considered sustainable. CGS said more U.S. companies are implementing more eco-friendly processes and products. It cited Patagonia’s development of Woolyester, a material that blends wool, polyester and nylon to use approximately 50 percent of waste materials.

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When asked which fashion, apparel and footwear brands come to mind when they think of sustainability, Nike, Toms and Patagonia were the top three named.

The trend is being driven by consumer desire, according to CGS. Nearly 70 percent of survey respondents said sustainability is at least “somewhat important” to them when making a purchase and 47 percent would pay more for a sustainable product.

With that in mind brands should revise their strategies for cultivating customer loyalty. According to CGS survey findings, consumers are most likely to return to a brand for the product’s quality. However, the second highest reason consumers return to a brand is its sustainable or ethical business practices. Brand name and brand mission closely followed as reasons for loyalty.

Many brands have emphasized that Gen Z is more aware of the environmental effects of their purchasing decisions than older generations and have crafted their message around that, and the survey backs up the supposition. The survey showed that Gen Z ranks ethical business/manufacturing as one of its top factors when purchasing, while the general public is more concerned about product price and availability. More than 50 percent of Gen Z respondents said they were willing to pay more for a sustainable product, slightly higher than the expressed by 47.3 percent of the general population.

The CGS survey found that only 25 percent of consumers care about sustainable apparel and footwear items, while 42.5 percent are concerned about eco-friendly paper goods. CGS said companies and consumers need to be educated on eco-friendly apparel business practices to minimize apparel waste.

“Today’s buyers are driven by more than price–they’re looking for brands that align with their own values and needs,” said Paul Magel, president of the business applications division of CGS. “To create a loyal customer base, brands must be transparent about the materials and development behind their products.”