As Earth Day Turns 50, New Kearney Research Indicates COVID-19 Has Not Reduced Consumers' Demands For Sustainable Solutions

April 22, 2020

CHICAGO, April 22, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Earth Day, the foundation of the modern environmental movement, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and our annual Earth Day survey indicates consumers still show a strong and growing interest in the environment even as COVID-19 continues to ravage the nation.

This year's survey of 1,000 consumers' attitudes toward environmental products and practices was conducted twice to see whether the outburst of COVID-19 changed consumer sentiment. The survey was launched first on March 6, when many thought COVID would be contained to a few "hot spots," and then again a few weeks later on April 10, when the scope and scale of the pandemic was apparent to almost everyone.

We found actual consumer purchase behavior is beginning to catch up with stated intentionality in measured, incremental steps. We also found that while consumers hold retailers and consumer goods manufacturers accountable for taking strong pro-environmental positions and bringing sustainable goods to market, they are often disappointed in what they find for sale.

In terms of how COVID-19 is impacting consumer attitudes:

  • 48 percent of respondents said the pandemic had made them more concerned about the environment. 
  • 55 percent of respondents told us that as a result of their COVID-19 experiences they were "… more likely to purchase environmentally friendly products."

"This year we see consumers expressing a more direct link between their health and the health of the planet," said Corey Chafin, a principal in Kearney's Consumer practice, and one of the co-architects of 2020 study. "This tells us consumers' pro-environmental sentiments are more than idealistic assertions. When it comes to the environment, consumers mean business."

Among the study's other highlights are:

  • 78 percent of consumers believe companies could be doing more to help them make decisions that improve environmental outcomes.
  • 65 percent of consumers expect companies to clearly explain environmental benefits on product labels or websites.
  • Since 2019, 11 percent more consumers reported shifting their purchases of core products based on environmental claims.
  • While 4 percent fewer respondents reported price as their most frequent barrier to selecting environmentally friendly products, availability in local stores also saw an uptick of 4 percent.
  • Consumers' biggest behavioral shifts were plans to decline plastic utensils with food orders (85 percent increase) and buying in bulk (164 percent increase).
  • In the future, 59 percent of respondents are very likely to bring reusable shopping bags to stores and 57 percent are very likely to carry reusable mugs or bottles.

"The time for 'evaluating market response' is over. It's past time that branders, retailers, and manufacturers take clear, authentic leadership on environmental issues," said Greg Portell, lead partner in Kearney's global Consumer practice. "In the middle of a pandemic we see consumers telling us—loudly and clearly—that it's not enough to cut a check to an environmental organization or have some polished messaging in the annual report. What's important here is executing against those lofty positions in the form of very tactical solutions consumers will perceive as authentic during and after COVID-19. Consumers demand a lot more out of the companies they support."

The study covers a broad range of topics from fast fashion and plastics to consumer attitudes toward government and their trust in corporations. For a full copy of the report, click here.

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