According to new research from the Center for Sustainable Business (CSB) at New York University, consumers are purchasing more sustainable products than ever before. Rather than being a niche sector trend, researchers found that this was happening across almost every consumer product category. This is a reflection of the raised awareness about environmental issues and ethical concerns amongst shoppers, which is driving their decisions when it comes to spending their dollars. As a response to the trend, businesses are gearing up to attract this green-minded demographic with sustainability-marketing strategies.
The CSB recently analysed purchasing data on sales of over 71,000 products across 36 classifications of consumer packaged goods, and found that sustainability-marketed products were responsible for a 50% of sales growth among all packaged goods between 2013 and 2018, despite the sector only accounting for less than 17% of the market share. Items were considered “sustainably-marketed” if they were advertised with certain pointers such as being non-GMO, plant-based or certified by organisations such as Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance.
“Across virtually every category…sustainability is where the growth is, which I think tells you something about where consumers are,” said Tensie Whelan, the director of CSB in conversation with Fortune. Whelan added that “the bottom line is if you look at our data there is a massive shift in the last five years.”
Not only did the CSB study find that sales of sustainability-marketed goods grew 5.6 times faster than other products in the “conventional” category, the data showed that there is still room for more sales growth in sustainable goods. In particular, goods “valued for efficacy” are poised to experience even greater sales growth in the next few years, especially as more purpose-effective eco-friendly products are being developed and will start entering the marketplace soon.
These findings bolster the existing wealth of research documenting the rise in popularity of sustainable products amongst an increasingly eco-forward consumer base. Market analysis firm Nielsen, for instance, found in 2015 that over 50% of consumers were willing to pay more for an eco-friendly product – up from just 22% in 2011. In Asia, a recent HSBC survey found that 74% of elite-level consumers in China prioritised making a positive impact over wealth and material goods.
This trend is set to stay too, as younger generations have spoken loud and clear that they are worried about environmental issues and are putting their money where it counts. A BSG-Altagamma report found that over 50% of Gen-Zs – the generation taking to the streets on Fridays to demand climate action from governments and businesses – are purchasing secondhand clothing more than ever. Generation Alphas are bound to reinforce the movement, with over two-thirds of current 6-9 year olds declaring that saving the planet will be the central career mission in the future, according to a 2019 analysis by Wunderman Thompson Commerce.
What this all shows is that to avoid being outmoded and retain consumers, marketing firms, brand managers and business leaders must address their current practices and strategies. Without responding to changing consumer tastes in favour of sustainability, companies that are not purpose-driven will inevitably lose market share in the long-term.