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IS SUSTAINABILITY SUSTAINABLE? - Will the pandemic consumer pay a premium to save the planet?

“Are consumers truly paying more attention to sustainability—or just saying that they are?”

Doing good costs money. And paying more feels bad. This simple psychological conundrum lies at the heart of the debate around sustainable consumption.

In a quest to resolve it, management consultants McKinsey & Company recently asked themselves an intriguing question: “Are consumers truly paying more attention to sustainability—or just saying that they are?”

Partner Sebastian Gatzer and Senior Partner Clarisse Magnin conducted extensive consumer research across twenty-seven countries and were particularly interested in how the pandemic has changed consumer intentions around sustainability. The insights they uncovered are encouraging.

“The importance of sustainability, the environment, ESG [environmental, social, and governance], safety, natural products, local sourcing, ethical sourcing…is really reinforced,” says Magnin.

The pandemic, it seems, has reinforced people’s commitment to sustainability. The more fragile our planet appears to be, the more the consumer is prepared to do to fix it.

As Gatzer says, “One out of four consumers…are planning to focus more on environmental issues and will pay more attention to social aspects in their shopping behaviour.”

And these optimistic McKinsey findings echo those of another major US company –BCG (Boston Consulting Group). BCG’s own research was even more positive – “Ninety percent of consumer respondents said they were equally or more concerned about these issues after the COVID-19 outbreak, and nearly 95% said they believed their personal actions could help reduce unsustainable waste, tackle climate change, and protect wildlife and biodiversity, with 27% to 30% noting that this belief had strengthened as a result of the crisis.”

These findings strongly suggest the pandemic has galvanised the consumer. No longer content to just talk the talk, they are now ready and willing to walk the walk.

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