In 1954, the renowned economist James Buchanan had written that ‘individual participation in the economy is a form of pure democracy’. This highlighted the importance of consumers’ participation in the larger economy. In the past, consumer-led movements have battled unfair labour practices and ensured product safety, healthy competition, fair prices, and even financial regulation. In this century, conscious consumerism has begun to drive the adoption of environmental sustainability.
Why should consumers make a conscious choice?
According to a World Bank Report, global waste is predicted to increase from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 billion tonnes within 30 years, unless urgent action is taken. The impact of climate change is already being felt across the world. It is clear that the world that we live in would continue to face unprecedented challenges
Consumers seem to be aware of this and they can literally change the world by making conscious choices. This can be accentuated by the growth of the organic farming industry in the US – from $3.6 billion in 1997 to a whopping $50 billion by 2019. This is also witnessed in the increase in the frequency of corporate reporting on sustainability, popularly known as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Performance and Achievements. In 2011, only 20 percent of US companies listed in the S&P 500 Index published sustainability reports. However, by 2018, almost 86 percent of companies from the S&P 500 Index had started doing this.
Unsurprisingly, millennials and Gen-Z consumers seem to be leading the way when it comes to making conscious choices. According to a worldwide survey conducted by Nielsen, which reached out to almost 30,000 respondents, more than 70 percent of GenZ respondents and 80 percent of millennial respondents expect brands to become more sustainable and are keen to vote with their dollars.
Besides, consumers are also making conscious choices by investing in products, services, or experiences which are important for them. They are willing to declutter and follow a minimalist lifestyle. Even when consumers are keen to evaluate and choose products, they often check out whether the ingredients that are used or the packaging of the products are environmentally sustainable or not.
Conscious consumerism takes centre stage
The global natural and organics market is poised to be worth an impressive $23 billion by 2025. Consumers are keen to use products, which are supportive of sustainability practices using natural or organic ingredients and products that are eco-friendly, and products that produce zero-waste.
Moreover, the pandemic has raised awareness among consumers, which makes them comprehend the product as well as the brand in and out. Thus, all our consumers are aware of our conscious efforts towards the product as well as the packaging.
Conscious consumerism also concerns people because they want to try products that will not harm their health and the environment. Traditionally, brands in the personal care market have differentiated themselves by highlighting their benefits for consumers as well as by disclosing the various ingredients used. However, consumers are also keen to know about the packaging practices followed by brands. Consumers are also vocal that these products need to be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
How consumers can make a conscious choice
Consumers could incorporate minimalism into their lifestyles by avoiding what they don’t need. They could patronise boutique firms that are transparent about following sustainable practices. They could purchase items such as plastic-free toiletries or cruelty-free cosmetics. However, the most effective way in which a consumer can make a conscious choice is by spending on products that fit into their ethical or environmental standards. Once organisations realise that consumers prefer to spend on such products, that would drive the former to take appropriate measures.
There are various aspects of an organisation that impact the environment, ranging from its supply chain, manufacturing process, packaging solutions, and distribution. Consumers could check whether the organisation has implemented environmentally sustainable best practices across all these aspects. Consumers could also check out labels on the packaging, which may provide information about the eco-friendly measures taken by a company. Consumers already scrutinise the ingredients that are being used and prefer to avoid products that use ingredients that could be harmful to the environment.
Being environmentally aware while shopping
Various surveys have shown that consumers are already environmentally aware during personal care shopping. They feel it is vital to support brands or manufacturers who follow sustainable practices so that they can reduce their ecological footprint and make a difference to the welfare of the entire planet. Thus, we ensure that our vegan, cruelty-free and 100 percent natural products not only look after their personal care needs but also imply them to maintain sustainable practice through their day-to-day use.
According to a report by Capgemini Research Institute which surveyed Indian respondents, 79 percent of consumers have admitted to changing their buying preferences based on environmental impact, social responsibility, and inclusiveness. Interestingly, 53 percent of consumers have switched to lesser-known brands simply because they were more sustainable as compared to their bigger competitors. 64 percent of consumers have even declared that they find happiness in purchasing sustainable products.
If Indian companies don’t reexamine their practices, they may fall back in the pecking order as Indian consumers are not only educating themselves about sustainable products but also are willing to back their convictions with their purchasing power.
In India, we have always had a culture of mending items if they break. However, over time, this has changed. Consumers could continue to get working products repaired rather than replacing them with new ones.
Consumers could also separate their waste by throwing recyclable waste in appropriate bins. They could prevent recyclable items from reaching landfills.
Consumers could form advocacy groups and demand that their local governments and municipalities to provide the relevant infrastructure to enable recycling.
According to a study published by American Marketing Association, consumers are likely to recycle more when they know what the recycled waste would eventually become. Therefore, companies could begin by educating consumers about the benefits of recycling. They could use labelling and identification systems which inform consumers about suitable ways to dispose of the product after use.
Companies could aspire to sell 100 percent recycled products. For instance, US-based firms such as Green Toys and All Birds sell 100 percent recycled products.
Similarly, mCaffeine has pledged to develop all its packaging to be recyclable. 75 percent of the products are made of glass packaging, and 25 percent is of recyclable plastic.
Companies could use recycled items during their manufacturing process. They may also transform used products into new material. For example, Nike uses manufacturing scrap, old sneakers and other unsellable products, and transforms them into a new material called Nike Grind, which is used in almost 75 percent of all Nike products. Nike Grind is also used for creating running tracks or tennis courts and other similar surfaces.
Companies could also reduce the generation of the hazardous waste which is eventually discarded in landfills. In 2020, Intel generated more than 1,40,000 tonnes of hazardous waste, out of which only 1 percent was sent to landfills.
The advent of the new normal will only hasten the adoption of conscious consumerism. With millennials and Gen-Z consumers beginning to earn and spend more, they are likely to drive the large-scale adoption of sustainable products. Hence, it is inevitable for brands to adopt sustainability as a core part of their business strategies.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)