The definition of sustainability is fairly precise: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged (Merriam-Webster). But the specific means by which this is achieved are much more ambiguous, particularly when it comes to consumer rationale for the products they see as sustainable.
Even with that variation, however, consumer interest in sustainability has been growing for years, so that by 2021, U.S. consumers are expected to spend $150 billion on sustainable products. The trend is even greater on the global level, with the U.S. not even appearing among the Top 10 countries in which consumers demand corporate sustainability. But even with its low-ranking sustainability indices (particularly in agriculture, climate change, and inequalities), there is strong corporate social responsibility and vocal consumer activity presenting the U.S. with a unique, but sizeable, sustainability opportunity.
According to a recent Nielsen report:
- It is the younger generations that are posing the greatest opportunity. 83% of Millennials feel strongly that companies should implement programs to improve the environment, with Gen Z’ers (80%) and Gen X’ers (79%) following closely behind.
- Consumers know what they want – and don’t want. So companies need to truly understand what consumers care about related to their product and category.
- The focus on sustainability is becoming ever more pervasive in day-to-day life. Take, for example, the fact that 22% of the 2018 Super Bowl ads were socially charged.
- It is impacting all aspects of food and hospitality sales: 73% of consumers say they would definitely change their consumption habits to reduce their environment impact.
How are retailers and manufacturers adapting business to meet consumers’ cry for sustainability? The report states the top five strategies as:
- Reduce and/or reformulate packaging and ingredients.
- Revamp the supply chain and/or suppliers.
- Diversify the product and/or vendor portfolio.
- Update and/or change existing business models.
- Integrate sustainability into consumer touchpoints and marketing.
Sustainability has become a significant aspect of business for product and service companies around the world. Sometimes it is a matter of industry pushing government and, sometimes, government pushing industry toward major commitments. But in all cases, the consumer’s voice plays a part.