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Consumers think buying sustainably still costs too much, says new research

Sustainability Segmentation 2022

Nick Baker Chief Research Officer 01/12/2022
The perceived premium on buying sustainable goods and services means they’re less likely to be picked up from the shelf.
Intentions to live sustainably do not align to action on purchase decisions

Brands looking to focus on their sustainability credentials may have to rethink their approach, according to a new study of 5,005 UK adults. 

Our latest Sustainability Segmentation research revealed that the cost-of-living crisis is impacting consumers’ ability and desire to buy sustainably, due to the perceived premium on buying greener products.

More than half of consumers see the cost of living as among the top three issues currently facing the UK, with only one in five saying the same of climate change. Rather fittingly, a third admit they can’t afford to buy more sustainable products and services – with a further quarter stating they need more evidence that sustainable purchases are worth the additional investment.

Notably, when it comes to everyday travel, more than half of respondents (54%) say cost is an important consideration, with carbon emissions coming dead last (at 24%).

These proportions remain consistent across all socio-economic demographics, even amongst those with a household income higher than £60,000 a year.

Sustainability was not cited as the most important purchase driver across groceries, lifestyle, energy supply, travel and transport, or money management.

Rising inflation is forcing UK shoppers to re-evaluate their purchases, and the perceived premium on buying sustainable goods and services means they’re less likely to be picked up from the shelf.

The research highlights that only 35% say they “almost always” buy organic, free-range or sustainably-sourced food, which is usually more expensive. It also noted that value for money is the factor most likely to be rated as important when buying non-food products (cited by 64% of consumers).

By comparison, only 30% say buying from a brand that is ethical or has a positive impact is important, and even fewer see Fairtrade or sustainability certifications as important. Almost three-quarters (71%) said price is important when it comes to choosing an energy supplier for their home, with only 35% saying whether a supplier buys renewable/’green’ energy is important. However, over half of respondents (55%) say they are on a green energy tariff.

It’s critical that the great leaps in sustainability seen in recent years aren’t lost, as brands try to keep prices down. Fortunately, a lot of products and services are now more sustainable as standard. The ‘sweet spot’ is where sustainability and low prices meet – in areas such as domestic energy-efficiency, for example. Brands that can show how being more sustainable will also keep costs down are likely to do very well in the coming months.

The ‘sweet spot’ is where sustainability and low prices meet – in areas such as domestic energy-efficiency, for example. Brands that can show how being more sustainable will also keep costs down, are more likely to do well in the coming months.

The findings come from Savanta’s latest Sustainability Segmentation, which analyses the views on climate change and sustainability of over 5,000 UK consumers. (12,000 across the UK, US and Canada).

The report segments consumers into seven groups, based around the well-publicised ‘say-do’ gap and plotting consumers’ intentions to behave more sustainably against the real-world steps they have taken to date. The research found that only one of the groups, the ‘Committed Changemakers’, is currently following through on their good intentions with their purchase decisions.

Overlaying this analysis with socio-political values and personality traits creates a holistic view of the various capabilities, motivations and opportunities of different consumers, giving organisations a working understanding of how to communicate and market sustainability in a manner that directly connects with consumer and customer values.

The report can be downloaded here.

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