Global survey commissioned by financial giant ING finds appetite for enhanced environmental performance among consumers, but warns green progress is hampered by confusion about sustainability options
A majority of consumers believe their choices can make a difference to environmental outcomes, and almost two-thirds are willing to abandon products and brands that are seen to damage the environment.
That is the headline conclusion of a worldwide survey of over 15,000 people from 11 countries across Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America, who were asked for their opinions about their buying habits in relation to the environment during the second half of 2019.
The findings, outlined in a report by financial services company ING this week, offer a detailed analysis of where consumers are already engaging in circular economy activities, and their appetite for new product and service models that curb environmental impacts and resource use, with a particular focus on the fashion, food, and electronics sectors.
Although 61 per cent said they would be less willing to buy a product from a company if they found that it performed poorly on environmental practices, they are still likely to engage with the linear "take, make and waste" production model for consumer goods unless companies make it easier for them to transition to a more circular lifestyle.
Analysis of survey responses suggests that this contradiction could stem from a lack of understanding of emerguing circular economy models that enhance resource efficiency and minimise waste levels. For example, only 21 per cent think companies in the electronics industry provide detailed information on the overall environmental impact of products; 41 per cent do not know where to access repair services; 71 per cent are not aware of device-sharing platforms; and 39 per cent can not distinguish between recyclable and non-recyclable plastics.
Consumers also lack the confidence to follow more circular practices, with 48 per cent not repairing clothes due to a belief that they need extra skills to do so.
The need to reassure customers that circular resource flows do not compromise product quality is also deemed to be key. For example, some 42 per cent of people said that they would not lease electronic devices due to data security fears.
The perceived extra effort required by circular models is also offputting for consumers. Over 40 per cent think renting clothes would require a lot more effort, and 36 per cent say time is a barrier to repairing electronic devices.
Similarly, price is still a factor for many consumers, with 54 per cent saying that they still choose low-cost, fast-fashion items over more expensive, more durable ones.
The report breaks consumers down into three broad groups - 'circular champions', 'circular sympathisers', and 'non-engagers', and identifies the different buying decisions, behaviours and motivations of each.
Businesses that thoroughly understand the differences in motivations from each consumer segment stand to gain valuable insight into how to transition to circular business models while also engaging those whose buying decisions are not based on environmental factors, the report concluded.