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The rise of the eco-friendly consumer

During the pandemic, people have become more sensitive to the environmental impact of their shopping decisions—and companies are responding

Source | | Amy Emmert

A version of this article appeared in the Autumn 2021 issue of strategy+business.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers might have run low on toilet paper or flour, or might have searched online in vain for an inflatable backyard pool. But there was one thing in endless supply for many stuck at home: time. And given more time to contemplate everyday actions and choices, a lot of people started focusing on the environmental impacts of their purchasing decisions. Before the pandemic, consumers had begun to prioritize sustainability. But in PwC’s June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, half of all global consumers surveyed say they’ve become even more eco-friendly.

In our 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey, just 35% of respondents said they chose sustainable products to help protect the environment, 37% said they looked for products with environmentally friendly packaging, and 41% said they avoided the use of plastic when they could. PwC’s survey results show percentages ten to 20 points higher in response to similarly worded questions. A study by creative research platform Visual GPS, in conjunction with market research firm YouGov, also indicates a shift during the pandemic. That survey finds that 81% of people polled expect companies to be environmentally conscious in their advertising and communications, and 69% of respondents said they were doing everything possible to minimize their carbon footprint (up from 63% just a year earlier).

All over the world, business leaders and analysts have been pondering which of the consumer behaviors accelerated by the pandemic will persist and deepen and which will recede. PwC’s survey, conducted more than a year after the first outbreak of COVID-19, suggests that eco-friendly consumerism is here to stay.

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