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Eco-Consciousness vs. Consumerism: Understanding Today’s Green Shopper Dilemma

For many consumers, going green is not as easy as it would appear. With concerns for the environment growing, particularly with the EU, we see a shift occurring in consumer behavior and perceptions of brands.

In 2021, the EU will introduce “rescaled” labeling for energy-efficient appliances – replacing the current A+++, A++, A+, etc ratings that provide very little differentiation among top bandings, with more specific A-G ratings.  This will give consumers clearer distinction at the point of sale between the top-rated appliances, alongside new labeling around repairability and durability – also key environmental credentials. 

Protecting the environment is increasingly top of mind for consumers – especially in Europe, where we are tracking the highest concentrations of consumers impacted by the eco-conscious trend.

Crucially, this demand is translating into purchasing trends too. Across Europe’s EU10 markets, we have seen a continuing massive increase in purchases of the top-rated energy labels within major domestic appliances.  The share of washing machines, tumble dryers, fridges, freezers and cooking appliances bearing the top two highest energy labels have jumped from 24% of total units sold in 2012, to 62% in 2018. [Read more about MDA and clashing consumer trends around energy efficiency]

Consumers’ Internal Conflict

But the story is not that straight forward. A large proportion of consumers are going through internal conflict. They are increasingly aware of the amount of environmental damage being done to our planet, and are demanding that ‘something must be done’. Despite this, many are slow in changing their own behavior if it requires a sacrifice of personal convenience – and this leaves them feeling conflicted. They want options that do not entail significant cost or major loss of convenience. 

For example, people know that using their car for short trips is polluting, but they find cycling or waiting for a bus too inconvenient. Or they want to use an eco-shampoo, but it must have the same foaming ability and easy application as their mass-market shampoo. 

So How do Manufacturers and Retailers Make Sense of these Conflicting Signals?

We looked at four major EU countries as examples. 

Germany, Poland, and UK have seen steady increases in recent years in the percentage of consumers saying they are making conscious changes to their lifestyles, in order to be more environmental. Russia, on the other hand, shows a fall in the number making this claim over the last years… but at the same time, nearly half of Russians say they feel guilty when they do something non-environmentally friendly – an increase of five percentage points over the last 3 years and significantly higher than Germany, Poland, or the UK.  

  Alongside this, all four countries have shown an upward trend for consumers saying brands and companies must be environmentally responsible – now standing at a minimum of half of the consumers in all four countries. And between a third and a quarter of people in Poland, Germany, and the UK say they will select one brand over another specifically because it supports a cause they believe in.

This immediately shows up where there are differences in consumer mindsets between countries, and indicates how brands can shape their messaging to trigger the most positive response from specific audiences.  

Top 5 areas Consumers are Most Concerned About

We asked consumers across Europe to rank environmental challenges in order of priority. Plastic waste is far and away from the #1 concern (mentioned by well over half of people in every country we studied), followed by climate change or global warming (59%) and the loss of rainforests (57%).   So focusing on these areas can give brands immediate wins. 

In particular, there is huge potential for a manufacturer or retailer to own the field in the top-ranking area of plastic waste. 

At present, in the EU countries we studied, up to 90% of shoppers answered  “no” when asked if there is any brand that does a lot to reduce plastic waste.  Only around 10% answered “yes” – of which over half named a manufacturer brand, and a quarter named a retailer brand.

The prize for being the brand that the majority of consumers associate with combating plastic waste is therefore wide open – both regionally and within specific countries. And it is manufacturers that consumers are looking to the most, in their expectation of who should take the lead in combating this massive environmental problem. 

While consumers see manufacturers as most responsible for controlling and limiting plastic waste, there are opportunities for both manufacturers and retailers to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of consumers by being seen to take effective action. The FMCG industry has already made noticeable progress in this area, but industries such as Technical Consumer Goods (TCG) are lagging behind as an overall group – offering significant opportunities for individual brands to differentiate themselves.

Final Thoughts

Significant (and increasing) proportions of the population across the world are placing importance on protecting our planet, with Europe showing the highest concentrations of eco-consciousness. But many people are conflicted when it comes changing their daily habits. They want green action to happen, but they are calling out for someone to help them rebalance the engrained high-convenience consumerism of our modern lives against the urgent need to be eco-conscious.  

This is a golden opportunity for both manufacturers and retailers. They can win strong, emotional affinity with these conflicted consumers, by giving them easy ways to turn their current shopping guilt into feel-good shopping experiences. The FMCG industry has already made progress in this area, but industries including Technical Consumer Goods (TCG) are lagging behind. TCG brands that can offer consumers the information they need to take make green choices that are also easily adopted, or low sacrifice for consumers, are well set to win the hearts of this sizeable following.     

The absolute “make or break” in all of this is that any eco claim must be authentic and transparent. Consumers are increasingly sensitive to ‘greenwashing’ and react strongly and vocally if they feel a brand has led them on with a cleverly worded claim aimed to trigger their personal values, but that turns out to have little real substance. Claims must be chosen with great care.

Questions? Contact us! [email protected] 

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One response to “Eco-Consciousness vs. Consumerism: Understanding Today’s Green Shopper Dilemma

  1. When you look at major appliances, are the percent of energy efficient products available increasing? Here in the US it’s getting harder and harder to even find energy INEFFICIENT major appliances.

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