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Study Shows People Can Make More Sustainable Product Choices

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Corporate commitments to climate and sustainability are growing in number and scope, but increased consumer action is needed to reach collective sustainable goals, according to a new report released Nov. 4 by Boston Consulting Group.

Consumers care about climate and sustainability and want to do their part, yet 20 percent said they believe they can personally have an impact.

Seventy percent admitted to feeling wary of corporate sustainability claims and commitments. The report, titled “Consumers Are the Key to Taking Green Mainstream,” considers how to accelerate consumer uptake of sustainable products, services and behaviors.

The report, which is based on a survey of 19,000 consumers across the U.S., JapanGermanyFranceItalyChinaIndia and Brazil, finds that while up to 80 percent of consumers said they are concerned about sustainability, only 1-7 percent have paid a premium for sustainable purchases. However, focusing only on these two extremes – consumers who are paying a premium for sustainable products and services and those who merely express concern about sustainability – conveys an incomplete picture of consumers’ actual behavior.

“It’s easy to interpret these signals as a lack of consumer readiness, but companies will never maximize the potential of sustainable products and services if they focus only on consumers who are willing to pay a premium,” said Aparna Bharadwaj, a BCG managing director, partner and global head of BCG’s Center for Customer Insight, who co-authored the report.

“There’s a significant number of ‘in between’ consumers who are just on the threshold of embracing sustainable products and services. The key question is, ‘How do we encourage these consumers to act?'”

Of the 14 product and services categories examined in the report, some are more advanced in terms of sustainable action by consumers.

For instance, in home care products, nearly 60 percent of consumers said they are already following sustainable behaviors such as recycling products, bottles and packaging (36 percent), using reusable cloths for cleaning (35 percent), and buying refillable cleaning and home care products (29 percent).

Adoption of sustainable behavior also varies by market. The greatest concern about sustainability comes from consumers in China (93 percent) for categories such as home care, cars, grocery retail, apparel and skin care products and Brazil (89 percent) for select categories including home care, cars, PCs and tablets. 

“By understanding consumers’ core needs, and by removing real or perceived barriers through innovation and communication, companies can increase sustainable outcomes,” said Lauren Taylor, a BCG managing director, partner and global leader of the firm’s customer-centric sustainability topic, who coauthored the report.

To view the full report, click here.

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