Covid jump-started consumer views on sustainability

By Jane Dalton, co-founder of Global Parlez, a market research agency focused on environmental and economic sustainability.

No-one had heard of Zoom before Covid, and hardly anyone was buying hand gel. Now, digital strategy and disinfection have become big business almost overnight.

But those are not the only areas of life where change has happened. Lockdown gave people time to stop and think, about what was important to them and about what was happening to the planet. While it’s hard to change most of our everyday habits, one area we can immediately alter is what we choose to buy.

Global Parlez has a survey running, asking people about their buying habits. This month, 64% of respondents said they were more likely to think about sustainable product choices now, than they did before the pandemic. Of these, 40% were already homeowners and, of the remainder, over 70% were planning to become property owners in the near future.

It’s easy to think that sustainable home improvement products don’t yet have a market, because consumers are much more willing to default to lower cost options. This is what people have been saying in the fashion industry for years, but this is now the second most likely sector for people to be choosing products that are kinder on the planet, from brands that don’t just ‘say’ they are eco, but ‘show’ they are.

Food shopping is the most popular sector for consumers to be going green. Fashion comes second, followed by transport options, eating out, and cleaning products.

In our survey, home improvement ranked just outside the top five.

Something to consider for any company promoting energy efficient or sustainable products is this: only 30% of the people we spoke to trusted terms like ‘sustainable’ ‘eco’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ if no explanation was given. Consumers value transparency: 97% said they would be more likely to purchase a product if clear explanation was given as to why and how it was sustainable.

We expect people to think about how a new part of their home will look. We know they keep in their minds how much it will cost, but now the two prime considerations have been joined by this new concern: if two slick new windows are broadly the same cost, it’s easy to see how sustainability will become the new battleground for differentiation. It’s time for brands to claim the limelight as the lead movers in sustainability.

Here is one UK consumer response to the Global Parlez survey: “I consider how it looks. After that, I think of sustainability. Since home design usually means I’m spending money on things that will be in my house for a long time, I try to invest in these things by shopping with a sustainable lens, even if it’s more expensive.”

Greater disposable income was cited by respondents as the key driver to increased likelihood of buying green products. This was followed by peer pressure: seeing friends and family who were regularly buying green. After that, the visible effects of climate change would also push people towards more energy efficient choices.

Since the run-up to Cop26 began, homes have been flooded with emotive images of climate change that is real and close to them. The tipping point of consumer opinion is following close behind.

Yet, as things stand, it’s hard to be a conscious consumer in home improvement. It’s difficult to search for information and to know who to trust.

Now is the time to start making it easy for people. Leaving industry jargon to one side, we need to spell out what sustainability means in relation to energy efficiency and raw material use in glass, metal, wood and, above all, plastic. Give people clear evidence of superior sustainability and long-term good for the planet and you will open up trust and market share, long after the current boom time in home improvement has ended.

Global Parlez collaborates with industry partners and global changemakers to share insight and create better links between those buying sustainable products and those producing them.