Sustainability and brands: Some consumer Insights

Brands will need to engage with the key consumer mindsets to thrive in this growing market, says WGSN.

Sustainability continues to be a key priority, with the topic remaining relevant among beauty, fashion, interiors and food and drink influencers across social media.

Furthermore, findings from a 2020 World Economic Forum survey found that 86% of respondents want to see more sustainable and equitable products in the post-pandemic market. Brands will need to engage with the key consumer mindsets to thrive in this growing market.

This is according to WGSN, the global authority on trend forecasting, which recently released Create Better: Innovating Towards a Sustainable Future, a white paper that outlines the key consumer mindsets shaping the conversation on sustainability and the actionable strategies to engage with them.

“Governments, businesses and individuals are using the upheaval of the pandemic as a chance to reset, and this has become intrinsically linked with building back more sustainably and equitably,” said Carla Buzasi, President & CEO, WGSN. “For brands, this represents immense opportunities, but also great risks for those that don’t move with the moment. Our white paper provides a toolkit to thrive in this time of transition, outlining the areas where businesses can win, the strategies for success, and the consumer profiles brands need to be talking to now.”

WGSN highlights the following three consumer mindsets in its whitepaper:

  • Democratic sustainability: The value-driven consumer, whose sustainability expectations are focused on both the price point and accessibility of products and services. Increasingly driven by value for money and a need for independence, this cohort will seek convenient, local solutions that simplify their life and give them a regained sense of control.
  • Active sustainability: The purpose-driven consumer is channelling their fears about the climate emergency into hope and action. They are willing to adopt new behaviours in order to reduce their ecological footprint and want to participate in changing the world for the better.
  • Outsourced sustainability: The disengaged consumer – this cohort is driven by a sense of mistrust in institutions and rejects the responsibility of minimising their personal environmental impact. Instead, they place their expectations on businesses to step in and lead environmental transformation.

WGSN has identified the following strategies to engage with these consumers:

  • Focus on affordability and accessibility: 63% of consumers consider value for money a key purchase driver, according to research from KPMG[1]. Brands will need to prioritise convenience and affordability when engaging  value-driven customers with more sustainable offers, products and services.
  • Help consumers buy more sustainably: 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing behaviour to be more responsible, according to an IBM Institute for Business Value survey[2]. Brands looking to engage purpose-driven customers should provide products that support a shift towards more sustainable purchasing, from personal carbon footprint-tracking apps to zero-waste options.
  • Build trust with educational material: According to a State of Plastic Recycling report[3], two-thirds of adults do not recycle all their plastic waste due to a lack of information and confidence in the recycling system. Brands wanting to win over disengaged consumers should provide truthful and reliable content that helps them navigate complex topics related to sustainability, such as instructions on how to recycle products at the end of their lifecycle.

The whitepaper provides detailed insights on various industry verticals. Here are a few highlights summarised for you.

Fashion Industry Insights

  • The fashion industry is shifting its focus from doing less harm to doing more good. Per WGSN’s barometer, environmental concerns continue to drive purchasing decisions (among 35% of consumers), followed by ethical labour (30%), transparency (24%), community (23%), inclusivity (22%), and being cause-driven (2%).
  • “Sustainable clothing” searches have risen over the past five years, as consumers look specifically for ethical brands and affordable options. Moreover, search interest for “recycled” is rising in the apparel category, with top related topics including clothing, sustainability and brand.
  • The fashion industry needs to prioritise biodiversity by seeking out tanneries, spinners, mills and fibre producers using regenerative agriculture practices. They need to move towards organically farmed leather, cotton, wool and bast fibre developments as well as use third-party certifications and track and trace technology to connect business targets directly to product development.
  • Firms need to design with minimal waste, ease of recycling, repair, reuse and resale in mind, as well as align product design and packaging with a broader, corporate-level Carbon strategy.

Beauty Industry Insights

  • Consumers are now looking for beauty ingredients that are nature-identical without being taken directly from nature itself, mitigating fears around risks to the loss of biodiversity and future zoonotic viruses.
  • Two new areas of biotechnology represent areas of opportunity. Blue biotechnology from marine life, as well as white biotechnology, which uses living microorganisms and enzymes to synthesise products that are easily degradable, are appealing to the more granular sustainability requirements of consumers.
  • Lab-grown ingredients and waterless products are taking the sting out of supply scarcity and shipping emissions, and challenging the idea that all-natural is always better, but there’s work to be done on making recycling and refills simpler and easier.
  • Beauty consumers are increasingly aware of issues surrounding waste and the importance of recycling. As a result, the popularity of refillable and reusable beauty products grows on social media in 2021 as compared to previous years (11.3% in 2021, up from 4% in 2018).
  • Across beauty, interiors and food & drink, social media conversations on reducing waste continue to grow, with its biggest annual spike around Earth Day.
  • The way forward is clear. Beauty firms need to consider partnering with biotech firms to develop lab-grown ingredients, reduce their reliance on water and make recycling easy.

Food & Drink Industry Insights

  • The popularity of plant-based meat alternatives would have been hard to believe 10 years ago, but is fast growing on consumers. Next on the horizon for the industry includes cell-grown meat, smart spoilage sensors to reduce food waste, and the rise of the carbon-positive climatarian diet.
  • Plant-based alternatives is the leading social media topic at an industry level
  • Farming/agriculture is the rising dominant concern, suggesting solutions to alleviate this impact will be increasingly important
  • Cell-based food is surging in popularity. For F&B brands – if investing in cell-based meats when approved, they need to also invest in education materials, marketing outreach, sampling opportunities and other communications to inform and engage curious eaters, and to build trust in these new meats.
  • Brands need to identify their biggest carbon contributors and tackle them first. While carbon footprints are challenging to calculate with no global standard, there are reputable local organisations that can help brands achieve transparency.
  • Reducing food waste will require doing things dramatically differently. This may include partnering outside of a brand’s industry and rethinking how products are made.

Interiors Industry Insights

  • More than most other industries, interiors are driven by-products with a longer lifespan, and sustainability has become a mainstream consideration within this.
  • As consumer attitudes toward ownership and the sharing economy change, the desire for low-commitment subscription models and rental services will accelerate
  • Brands need to champion circular design with recyclable and renewable materials and components.
  • Moreover, as consumers become more aware of greenwashing, brands need to demonstrate eco-credentials with certifications. They need to proudly display certifications and accreditations.
  • Brands also need to look to repair, recycling and rental programmes to keep furniture out of landfill, and as e-commerce continues to grow, investing in solutions that resell and refurbish bulky items such as sofas.

Consumer Tech Insights

  • Technology purchases are increasing, but so is e-waste. For consumer tech, the path to sustainability lies in clear carbon labelling, circular systems with recycled and renewable materials, and longer-lasting, easily repairable products.
  • E-waste (electronic waste) is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, with around 50m metric tonnes produced each year.
  • Screen, phone, computer and TV repair searches are all on the rise, as the right-to-repair movement gains popularity     
  • Brands need to tackle emissions with transparency, streamlining websites and digital media to be carbon-aware.
  • Brands need to choose materials holistically, identifying how new and emerging materials fit within established waste streams and recycling processes.
  • Lastly, brands need to design for disassembly. They must empower customers to make or organise repairs with comprehensive access to all the necessary elements. They must build repair into their business model before it’s a legal requirement.