From a long-standing focus on sustainability by companies such as Patagonia and REI to newer initiatives such as Galeries Lafayette’s (Re)Store, IKEA designing for reuse, and Mars’ pledge for net-zero emissions (among many!), retailers and brands are on the path to actively supporting the circular economy.

Overall, consumers’ consciousness about environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and policy is taking hold. According to the Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics® Media And Marketing Recontact Survey, 2021, almost half of US online consumers consider themselves environmentally conscious. But their sentiments run much deeper. According to the Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics Benchmark Survey, 2021, we found that:

  • Approximately two-thirds of US online consumers wish that companies were more transparent about their business practices — and they believe that companies are responsible for protecting the environment.
  • About two-thirds of online consumers in Metro China, France, and the UK — and just over half of US online adults — are concerned about the impact of climate change on society. One-third of US online consumers indicate that concerns about climate change affect their purchase decisions.
  • Two out of five US online consumers want to understand the consequences of their energy choices. Almost half look for energy-efficient labels when they buy products.

Consumers Translate Their Values To Purchasing Action

Consumers are actively looking for commitment from retailers and brands where they shop.

  • Environmental impact is top of the consumer’s mind. As stated in the Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics Retail Recontact Survey, 2021, two out of five US online consumers prefer to buy environmentally sustainable products. But they lag consumers in other regions: Online adults in the UK (49%), France (60%), and Metro China (82%) are even more likely to prefer buying environmentally sustainable products. These shopping preferences shine through concerns about the environmental footprint of online shipping (just over one-third in the US, versus almost half of online adults in Metro China, France, and the UK). Global online consumers are also concerned about companies’ labor practices (approximately one-third of online adults in France, the UK, and the US). Online consumers also profess to be willing to pay more for sustainable or environmentally friendly products, including in the UK and US (about one-third), France (almost half), and Metro China (close to three-quarters).
  • Concern and intent shift to action with purchasing power. Almost half of US online consumers regularly buy from brands or companies that align with their personal values. In fact, US consumers consistently ranked the company’s environmental responsibility among the top three impact drivers when they bought products as diverse as consumer electronics, large appliances, cosmetics/beauty products, clothing/footwear products, and groceries, among others in the Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics Technology, Media, And Telecom Consumer Buyer Journey Survey, 2021. Furthermore, approximately one-fifth to one-third of US adults say they regularly buy products with sustainable materials or origins (e.g., reusable products, made from sustainable or recycled materials, non-toxic or chemical-free, certified organic, non-GMO, locally made, etc.). Similarly, between approximately one-fifth and about half of online consumers in Metro China, France, and the UK also say they regularly buy products with these attributes.
  • Help your values-focused, info-hungry customers easily access content to buy confidently. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of US online consumers who think that reducing their environmental impact “is too much work” actually increased from 18% in 2019 to 23% in 2021 (Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics North American Technology, Media, And Telecom Benchmark Recontact 1 Survey, 2019 (US); Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics Media And Marketing Recontact Survey, 2021). One in five online consumers in France and the UK agree on this point — as do fully three-quarters of Metro China online consumers. We surmise that there are likely several reasons — from budgets and price to convenience, access to environmental education or resources, and more. Retailers and brands must clearly communicate on the product detail page and throughout the buying process information that spells out product attributes, environmental impact, and more to help consumers easily find the information they need to make their buying choices.

To find out more about the environmentally conscious consumer in numerous global markets, please see the Forrester report, The Circular Economy: How To Build Value From Secondhand Commerce, by our colleague Michelle Beeson. You can find additional insights from Forrester’s Trust Imperative insights, and Forrester clients can schedule an inquiry.

This blog post is part of Forrester’s COP26 series. For more Forrester insights on sustainability, see the full set of Forrester’s climate action blogs.