Unaffordable prices and inaccessible data reducing green consumerism

Photo by Anna Tarazevich

A survey of 1,200 consumers across the U.K., U.S. and Germany by ESG software, data and consulting firm Sphera has found that unaffordable green products and inaccessible or unreliable product data is hampering sustainable buying choices and behaviors.

Against a backdrop of record-breaking inflation, 31% of consumers pinpoint the high cost of sustainable products as the biggest barrier to sustainable behavior change.

On top of this, only 20% of consumers would definitely pay a premium for sustainable products and only 30% now avoid unsustainable brands, indicating that sustainability is not being consistently incorporated into consumer buying habits. However, 44% say they would “probably” pay a premium for green products.

Amid high-profile greenwashing scandals, access to reliable sustainability information emerges as the second biggest barrier to sustainable consumer behavior, with just one in ten consumers finding it very easy to access reliable sustainability information.

It is perhaps then not a surprise that only 23% say they are “highly committed to sustainable behavior change,” falling to 18% in the 18-24-year-old age range. Fifty-six percent are “somewhat committed” to sustainable behaviors, indicating relatively lukewarm adoption of green lifestyles.

Similarly, only 20% of 18-24-year-olds are extremely concerned about the climate crisis and the need for greater sustainability and net zero emissions – the lowest proportion among all age groups (although 58% report being somewhat concerned).

This is also the age group most likely to say they can only make a difference if “business plays its part too.” With only 10% of all consumers professing complete trust in business sustainability promises and only 48% believing net-zero targets are still achievable, perceived business inaction may be leading to a degree of public apathy and cynicism around efforts to reach net zero.

The report reveals consumer activism is increasingly confined to a fringe minority, with 7% having regularly boycotted brands over sustainability issues in the last two years, while only 13% say sustainability is now the primary factor in choosing a brand.

Although 18% say they avoided “a few” unsustainable brands and 56% say sustainability is important among other factors when buying products, it appears that few consumers consistently adopt green purchasing habits.

The survey finds climate change skepticism is almost equally rife across the U.S., U.K. and Germany, with only 38% of consumers completely believing humans contribute to climate change, a proportion that is similar across all three of the West’s largest economies. While 43% say they believe in man-made climate change “to some extent,” this indicates that doubts over climate science are also impacting sustainable consumerism.

Paul Marushka, Sphera’s CEO and president, said: “This report confirms the perceived unaffordability of green products, and the often inaccessible or unreliable nature of sustainability data is breeding sustainability skepticism and apathy among consumers.

Amid increases in the cost of living and distrust in unsubstantiated corporate claims on climate-related issues, there is a growing imperative for industries to work together on lowering the cost of green products and standardizing sustainability reporting.

Consumers increasingly expect businesses to ‘walk the walk’ on ESG claims before they themselves are willing to make more sustainable choices, indicating that transparent business action on decarbonization would act as a trust multiplier and galvanize reciprocal consumer action.”

Marushka continues, “Rising consumer apathy and distrust of some corporate sustainability claims could impact the ability of businesses to roll out carbon-friendly products and meet their climate change targets.

“Reports of greenwashing are also contributing to consumer distrust of measures such as carbon offsetting, with 34% of consumers in the survey believing that corporate carbon offsetting is either an easy way out or no solution at all.

“There is a clear need for universal standards on sustainability measurement and reporting to improve corporate sustainability data and rebuild public trust in green products, services and brands.”

Other findings:

  • Thirty-eight percent of respondents agreed, at least somewhat, that the behavior of others influences their willingness to make sustainable choices.
  • Of the minority still willing to pay a premium for sustainable products (20%), 27% would only pay between 1% to 5% extra.
  • Only 18% of consumer respondents described themselves as very knowledgeable about sustainability, climate change and net zero.