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EARTH DAY What the latest research says about shoppers’ attitudes to sustainability

John Lewis and IKEA announced their far-reaching eco-friendly plans

Shoppers want to buy more sustainably, but there are suggestions that they may not be able to afford to do so in a cost-of-living crisis. Two different pieces of research out to mark today’s Earth Day consider shopper attitudes towards sustainability. We take a look at their findings and share an example of what fashion brand Joules is doing in order to improve its sustainability.

The Earth Day campaign is this year calling for investment in the planet in order to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century – and keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees celsius. It supports the Paris Agreement on climate change to achieve those reductions by 2030.

The importance of sustainability: Accenture study

More shoppers (64%) are concerned about the outlook for the environment than are concerned about their own financial situation (54%), their health (40%) or the health of others (47%), according to a study from Accenture.

The study questioned more than 2,000 UK adults and found that almost a third (31%) said that compared to two years ago, they were more likely to shop in line with their personal values and ethics, and a third (32%) said that they had greater expectations of brands and retailers to report on the impact of the business activities upon the environment. Only 9% of people in the UK agree with both statements, but 53% agreed with at least one.

Two-thirds (63%) of UK shoppers say they are buying secondhand, recycled and refurbished products or are upcycling their existing items more than they did two years ago. That’s higher among those facing budget pressures (67% vs 56%). Some 38% said that they were regifting or taking more items to charity shops than before the pandemic.

Food and grocery retailers make it easier than any other sector to understand which products are the most sustainable, according to 62% of respondents – with takeaway food brands ranking lowest (43% said they made it difficult). When asked how that should be communicated, the largest group of shoppers (42%) said they wanted to see a sustainable icon, such as a recycling symbol, to show which products and services are most sustainable when shopping online.

Oliver Grange, consumer goods strategy and consulting lead for Accenture in the UK & Ireland, says: “Two years on from the start of Covid-19 and six months on from COP26, it is clear that consumers are becoming more mindful of how they shop. Our research shows that, not only do brands have a responsibility to enable customers to consume more sustainably, there is a significant commercial opportunity for those that do so.

“Consumers are increasingly expecting their values to be reflected back to them when making purchasing decisions, though this must be done authentically. Brands must ensure they embed sustainability considerations into their growth plans whilst providing clear, transparent information on the environmental impact of products to show they’re truly committed to a sustainable future.”

Concerns about the costs of sustainability: Bazaarvoice

UK shoppers want to buy more sustainably, but struggle to balance this with the rising cost of living, a Bazaarvoice survey of 1,000 members of its Influenster community suggests. Given the choice, it found 44% would ditch fast fashion and switch to more sustainable clothing options – but they simply can’t afford the difference in cost.

The study found that two thirds of respondents recognised the negative impact fast fashion companies have on the planet (66%), but found that the higher prices (62%) and general availability of more sustainable and eco-friendly product alternatives (42%) stood in their way. Almost a quarter (22%) said size inclusivity drove their fast fashion purchases.

The lack of awareness around fast fashion’s attempts to act sustainably has also increased the dilemma felt by consumers. In fact, half have not heard about the recycling initiatives set up by fast fashion brands to combat their large carbon footprints.Conversely, there is a feeling that more could be done by sustainable brands to make eco-conscious shopping more financially viable.

Four in five consumers are more likely to make a sustainable switch if they were offered incentives (83%), such as discounted items for participating in recycling programmes.

More consumers believe that brands use sustainability programmes as a marketing ploy (29%) than believe brands are actually being mindful of their ecological footprint (22%). However, almost half look through brand websites to find out about their sustainable practices (41%).

Ed Hill, SVP EMEA at Bazaarvoice, says: “In recent years we’ve seen that consumers don’t just want to shop, they want to support and shop from brands whose values and beliefs mirror their own. As we see the cost of basic necessities increase across the UK, it understandably puts consumers in a predicament as they try to balance ethics with the income they have at their disposal.”

He adds: “It’s important that brands and retailers are either able to offer sustainable options that are affordable, or that they are able to take the guilt out of fast fashion purchases by properly promoting—and following through on—their sustainability commitments. To build trust, companies ultimately need to do more than just talk the talk, they need demonstrate their willingness to contribute to the greater good. But they must do so in a way that’s authentic, transparent, and backed by actions that drive real change.”

CASE STUDY Joules’ takeback and resale programme

Fashion brand Joules is working with Reskinned to launch a ‘Joules ReWear’ take back and resale programme that it says will enable its customers to invest in the planet, in line with this year’s Earth Day objectives.

Customers can start returning items now for their discount off new products. Returned items will then be re-sold ‘good as new’, or otherwise repurposed or exported. The Joules ReWear re-sale platform is due to launch later this year, allowing shoppers to purchase those pre-loved items ready for a new home.

Ruby Fowler, corporate social responsibility manager at Joules, says: “We recognise the huge importance of doing what we can to reduce waste and improve the circularity of our industry, and Reskinned’s efforts align closely with our own strategy and our wider Responsibly Joules framework. This sits at the heart of everything we do, and will continue to be critical as we work hard to deliver value for all our different stakeholders into the future. We can’t wait to see the success that we hope this partnership brings.”

Matt Hanrahan, chief executive of Reskinned, says: “At Reskinned we make it easy for brands and their customers to maximise the reuse potential of the many garments already out there. If we can’t reuse them, we’ll recycle them responsibly. It’s great to be working with Joules who clearly share our commitment to creating a more sustainable and circular clothing future.”

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