New research by Accenture suggests that the pandemic has intensified interest in “conscious consumption” — defined as those who seriously consider the environmental and societal impacts of their shopping choices.

Accenture said this would challenge consumer goods and retail industries to fundamentally rethink how they cater to the pandemic-adapted consumer.

Key findings of its survey include:

  • Half of the respondents did not have a good understanding of which brands are sustainable/ethical and which are not.
  • To help understand how sustainable a product is, 7-in-10 consumers would support a mandatory, but simple, labeling standard for products such as a traffic light indicator.
  • Two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents believe that the government should introduce legislation to promote “conscious consumption,” i.e., charging for plastic bags.
  • 69 percent of respondents believe consumer brands should do more to make it easier to consume more consciously.
  • One-third (33 percent) of respondents admitted that they do not have a good understanding of what items they can, and cannot, recycle.

“The pandemic is making consumers think more about the impact their purchasing decisions are having on the environment and society at large,” said Oliver Wright, senior managing director and global lead of Accenture’s consumer goods industry group. “Consumers’ focus on areas like the provenance of ingredients and raw materials, working practices, the environmental impact of finished products and packaging, calls for companies to ensure the agility and capability to be relevant to consumers and customers — with a portfolio of products and services that match shifting purchasing patterns – and to better collaborate with industry peers, just as they proved they could during the pandemic.”

Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global retail industry group, said: “People’s values are increasingly becoming infused in their shopping habits as consumers think more about balancing what they buy, and how they spend their time, with global issues of sustainability. This calls for retailers to be authentic and to pay attention to what each community they serve really cares about. It is no longer enough for brands to just talk about responsibility, they need to adopt environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices, harnessing technology to drive outcomes across their entire operations, from building more sustainable supply chains to equipping the workforce for a new environment.”

The latest research supports Accenture’s previous findings that the shift in “conscious consumption” is likely to remain or accelerate. For example:

  • In April 2020, 64 percent of consumers said they are focusing more on limiting food waste and will likely continue to do so going forward. In December 2020, this number jumped to 72 percent;
  • In April 2020, 50 percent of consumers said they are shopping more health-consciously and will likely to continue to do so. This increases to 68 percent of consumers when surveyed in December 2020; and
  • 45 percent of consumers said they are making more sustainable choices when shopping and will likely continue to do so. In December 2020, this figure rose to 66 percent.

In addition to meeting these rising consumer expectations, companies are under pressure to deliver the necessary impact to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and mitigate future economic impacts from COVID-19. A recent Accenture report outlines key pathways for retail and consumer goods companies to integrate sustainability into their corporate strategies and systems:

  • Reduce operational environmental footprint by adopting water recycling and greywater utilization, implementing net-zero goals and understanding product disposal impacts;
  •  Implement circular business models to reduce product and packaging waste and promote responsible consumption; and
  •  Build robust and inclusive value chains by implementing equal opportunity practices, protecting human rights and ensuring all workers are paid a living wage.

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