Consumers are more worried about climate change today than ever before. According to new research from the 2022 Mintel Consulting Sustainability Barometer, the number of global consumers citing climate change as a top three environmental concern has risen from an average of 39% to 46% between 2021 and 2022. This places it as ‘the world’s highest environmental priority’ among consumers.
Associated concerns over water and food shortages are also evident. Thirty-one percent of respondents expressed apprehension over water shortages in 2022 compared to 27% in 2021. There has been a 5% swing in the number of people who reported fears over food shortages, a figure that rose to 23% in 2022. Mintel researchers noted that these concerns made the most ‘significant gains’ in terms of environmental priorities in a year that was rocked by extreme weather events and war in Ukraine.
“The fact that concerns around climate change and water and food shortages are being prioritised ahead of previous preoccupations with waste and plastic pollution points towards the emergence of a more informed and hardened global consumer,” Richard Cope, Mintel Senior Trends Consultant, explained.
Air quality issues, such as exhaust fumes or industrial emissions were a worry for 36% of people and plastic pollution was highlighted by 33%. However, concerns about plastic pollution are down slightly from 36% in 2021.
“Soaring temperatures, extreme weather events and disruptions to food, water and energy supply chains have given consumers a harsh reality check, hurting their health and wallets, and activating them in the process,” Cope suggested.
The changes people will make
Does this reported anxiety translate to behavioural change? Does a desire for sustainable consumption add up at the checkout?
Mintel’s research demonstrates just under three in five consumers globally now agree that extreme weather events such as flooding and heatwaves in the country where they live encourage them to personally ‘do more activities to protect the environment’.
These activities offer shoppers a ‘feel good factor’ with 68% of consumers globally saying doing things that benefit the environment makes them feel happy. While 38% say they want to show other people how they are doing good for the environment, a further 24% say they have researched their annual carbon footprint through tools like an online calculator or app.
This well-informed consumer – as well as a tightening regulatory environment – is placing more pressure on companies to deliver meaningful impact, Cope suggested. “Escalating activism, regulatory reaction and the sheer scale of the challenges ahead and solutions required have educated global consumers enough to sniff out greenwashing campaigns and there’s no going back from that. This means companies will increasingly need to assert—and clearly communicate—the truly impactful actions they are taking to reduce emissions, rather than simply offset them or dip their toes into populist ‘plastic free’ campaigns. This growing awareness around resource inputs and emission and waste outputs will also spell the end for ‘environmentally friendly’ as a credible marketing term.”
When looking at the changes consumers are willing to make in their own lives, Mintel’s data shows a focus on ‘simplicity and frugality’, with 59% flagging recycling strategies and 53% supporting efforts to tackle food waste. This could well reflect another emerging concern that Cope said will continue to be felt in 2023 – the need to make budgets stretch.
“Our research shows that the majority of consumers continue to see recycling and mitigating waste as important sustainable behaviours. This tells us that simple, frugal behaviours are the most popular among consumers which underlines the fact that brands’ sustainability initiatives need to deliver on value and convenience. Looking ahead to 2023, expect to see resource (food, water, money) conservation ascend further up the agenda and the use of economising technology refurbishes and urban peer access sharing economies to grow. For consumers, the connections between saving the environment, its resources and their money will strengthen,” he predicted.