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Sustainability awareness increasing amongst European consumers

Olly Warren Senior Director, EMEA 3 March 2023

Consumer Compass Europe: Q1 wave

As climate change and sustainability become increasingly pressing issues, are European consumers are beginning to take notice and act?

Conducted across six European markets, our newest Consumer Compass survey revealed that over half of Italian and Dutch consumers regard sustainability as an important consideration when buying a product or service (54% and 51% respectively) – significantly higher than any other market. Out of the 11 factors tested, sustainability was the 8th most important for the Italian market (45%), only beating brand values & ethics, brand reputation and packaging.

Spending influencers and the importance of sustainability

Unsurprisingly, price/value (75%) and quality (72%) attracted the most importance. This indicates that while sustainability is important to Italian consumers, it is not necessarily the top priority when they are making their purchasing decisions.

Least concerned by sustainability issues are the French and Nordic consumers (39% and 32% respectively). The Nordics have a strong track record of sustainability performance – reflected in their countries’ high rankings in the Europe Sustainable Development Report 2021 (Sweden 2nd, Denmark 3rd, Norway 5th). Given this significant progress in the sustainability sphere, perhaps they feel less urgency to prioritise this consideration in their purchasing decisions.

However, it is worth noting that the sustainability success of these countries may in part be due to their historical emphasis on sustainability considerations in their purchasing decisions. Thus, while sustainability may not be a top priority for consumers in these countries, their previous efforts have likely contributed to their current position as environmental leaders.

Consumers in the Nordics are also most likely to buy second-hand items (48%), suggesting that they are possibly slightly ahead of the curve in their habits and have moved on from the bare minimum – such as recycling packaging. This could be an example of how the Nordics are pushing ahead of the sustainability curve and using their resources in more sustainable ways.

Italian consumers, however, are significantly less likely than all other markets to buy second-hand clothes (53%) and are least likely to buy clothes from a charity shop (61%) or take part in a clothes swap (49%).

Interestingly, Italy places significantly higher importance on sustainability issues than any other market. Incidentally, the country ranked significantly lower in the Sustainable Development Report (23rd), which supports the notion that the environmental state of a country may play a key role in shaping the purchase behaviour of consumers. However, this doesn’t explain their aversion to participating in the circular economy, suggesting this may be rooted more in culture than in ethics.

Nonetheless, at a total level, the survey results show that European consumers are increasingly concerned about sustainability. Whether it is through more sustainable choices in their daily lives, or through actions such as investing in renewable energies, they are increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability and are taking the necessary steps to reduce their environmental impact.

The consensus across European consumers is that government and larger organisations are responsible for tackling the climate crisis. While 59% of respondents agreed that large organisations are responsible, 66% felt their respective governments should be holding companies to account.

Important behaviour traits of a consumer brand: how does sustainability rank?

Our study also found that over half of consumers place high importance on brands’ sustainability credentials, with ‘uses recycled and recyclable packaging’ being the most important (60%). However, out of 13 statements in total, this was ranked 7th, with statements regarding ‘data protection’ and ‘diversity & inclusion’ being considered more important. Interestingly, the most important credential was ‘takes responsibility for their actions’ (69%).

Understanding of ‘greenwashing’ is low, as 68% say they have little or no understanding of the term. Nordic consumers have the best knowledge of the term, with 40% claiming they have either ‘some’ or ‘a good understanding’ of it. In contrast, less than a third of those in France, Spain and Italy claim the same level of understanding.

Based on the general findings, it appears that European consumers are becoming more conscious of sustainability issues and are taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint. This includes prioritizing sustainability when making purchasing decisions, opting for second-hand or refurbished items, and becoming more knowledgeable about greenwashing.

While consumers believe governments and large organisations bear the brunt of the responsibility to tackle the climate crisis, their own increased environmental awareness will hopefully aid the fight for a more sustainable future.

For a more detailed insight into consumer attitudes towards sustainability, download the latest European Consumer Compass report.

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