Rise of the conscious consumer: 75% of Brits adopt ethical shopping and healthier eating habits.

Posted by Abigail Olingschlaeger on the 14th January, 2019
75% of the public are consciously modifying their behaviour when it comes to consumer items. Plastic, non-recyclable materials, dairy, meat, sugar and even clothes are among those products we are beginning to reconsider our consumption of.

A noticeable shift in the behaviour of the general public is happening in the UK and across the world. As global warming, the threat of extinction of many beloved species and other ecological crises reach breaking point, the shift in behaviour from consumers at an individual level is a predictable side effect. But to what extent are we really looking to make an individual change to combat these issues?

As consumers, we are now looking to extend our consideration for the world beyond our own households and towards the polluted sea, depleting wildlife and our planet in general. We’ve realised that small changes in behaviour can and have already had a collectively huge impact on the landscape of consumerism. So, we sought to measure to what extent individual modifications have been adopted as we asked the question: just how conscious are consumers? In search of answers, we used our Walnut Omnibus to conduct a survey of 2000 people (nat. rep.) to find out what the population is consuming, and how.

Amongst the findings, a startling 75% of the public indicated that they currently modify their consumption and have become more conscious about their use of consumer items including plastic, non-recyclable materials, dairy, meat, sugar, salt, gluten, palm oil, travel, clothes and products that have been tested on animals.

Plastic leads the pack…

Plastic is the most popular modification amongst UK consumers, with 46% stating they actively reduce their plastic usage. When asked why, the most popular response is to help the environment, followed by the greater good and because of social pressures.

This is no huge surprise. It is increasingly recognised that plastic is a problem we need to all act on. We’re all aware of the “Attenborough effect” and how Blue Planet II built momentum and brought plastic waste to the forefront of people’s minds; with data published by online search behavioural specialist Hitwise showing that searches of ‘plastic recycling’ rose by 55% following the programme’s final episode. As the most watched show of 2017, with over 14 million viewers, its effect on the general public was huge. Now as a more collectively educated nation, it appears we’re trying to do our bit to help the cause.

Who is reducing what?

Interestingly, we found that it’s not just the younger generations who are really pushing for a change. Although 36% of 18-44 year olds claim to be reducing their plastic usage, the real heroes are 75+ – 65% of whom said they consciously try to reduce their plastic waste. This is arguably a result of more free time and often being less ‘on the go’ which can erase the pressure of using additional plastic. Let’s not forget that they’ve also grown up in the pre-plastic era, so remember alternative solutions.

When it comes to the sexes, women are more likely to reduce their consumption in general, with 79% stating they do so, compared to 71% of men. This holds true particularly across all products/goods, with over half of women reducing their plastic consumption compared to 39% of men.

Women are also twice as likely as men (41% to 21%) to stay clear of products tested on animals, and more women than men are reducing their meat consumption (27% women vs. 17% men), with 54% of women doing this to benefit their physical health, rather than any other reason.

So, why are we doing it?

The threat of ecological depletion and the “Attenborough effect” are obvious triggers for conscious consumerism. But, at the end of the day, our study also found that modifying our consumption makes us feel good! Those that are modifying their consumption in one way or another feel good about life, with 69% of people who reduce their plastic waste feeling more positive about life (vs. 39% of those not reducing plastic who feel negative about life).

Using the example of meat products, 1 in 5 of us claim to modify our consumption, with the highest number doing so because of their physical health (56%) followed by 39% of people claiming to be reducing how much meat they eat for the greater good. Despite making us feel happier, the rationale behind consumption is not always so outwardly positive. A staggering 20% people also claimed to be reducing meat intake due to feelings of guilt.

What about the 25% that don’t modify their behaviour?

In order to convert ¼ of the population to begin consuming consciously, we must understand exactly why some individuals are failing to adopt this behaviour. It can’t solely be because they were busy during the last series of Blue Planet…

58% of these non-adopters said it was because they don’t see any need to, with more males than females holding this attitude. This may indicate a need to raise awareness in the differences conscious consumerism can make to the planet. For 38% of these non-adopters, the sticking point is infiltrating their routine. This may indicate a need to target these creatures of habit and educate them of the long-term benefits. 15% claim to be rejecting conscious consumerism for financial reasons. Once more, a little education can demonstrate that cutting down on certain products can realistically lead to savings. Conscious consumerism does not always mean buying more expensive products.

In each instance, a little education can go a long way. But who should this education come from? We can’t entrust the future of our entire consumerist landscape to David Attenborough and the Blue Planet team. There is a need at micro and macro level to educate every one of the benefits of conscious consumerism.

What can brands do?

It’s evident that conscious consumerism is here and here to stay. It’s a tough time for brands and retailers, as consumer expectations are higher than ever. Not only are brands expected to provide top quality products, but they should also hold a good sustainable stance, a good political and social stance too.

So, how should brands respond to this demand from consumers? Brands and retailers also have an opportunity (and responsibility) to educate the public. The obvious market for many brands is to appeal to the conscious consumers. Is your packaging heavily reliant on plastic? Is your meat responsibly sourced? Is your clothing range designed and manufactured with conscious consumers and the environment in mind? Take these trailblazers – Iceland with stance against palm oil and their promise to go plastic-free by 2023, Tesco launching their own brand vegan range Wicked Kitchen and their locally sourced produce store Jack’s, Pret a Manger giving a 50p rebate for using your own cup, and Levi Strauss committing to reducing the amount of water used in production of their jeans.

Other brands need to follow suit and fast, as it’s clear that this is a popular mentality that is here to stay. And if we don’t learn to consume more consciously, both the planet and humankind may pay the price.

Meet the Author: Abigail Olingschlaeger
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