How powerful is the eco-conscious consumer?

By Donna Eastlake

- Last updated on GMT

Is eco-friendly eco-nomically savvy? GettyImages/NataliaDeriabina
Is eco-friendly eco-nomically savvy? GettyImages/NataliaDeriabina

Related tags Sustainability

Shoppers are voting with their feet when it comes to environmentally friendly foods. But how powerful is this consumer trend and what does it mean for manufacturers?

The impact of climate change on the planet has been recognised for some time now. However, it’s beginning to have a significant impact on how and what people are purchasing as they start to stretch their wallets in order to put the planet first.

A recent study by climate tracking firm, reewild, has found that shoppers are turning towards environmentally friendly products as the rise of the eco-conscious consumer continues.

The rise of the eco-conscious consumer

It’s estimated that eco-conscious consumers already account for one in every five pounds spent on fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) in the UK. At 20%, that is already a sizeable share of the market, and it’s projected to grow to a dominant 62% by 2030. This growth is even more significant as it’s happening in parallel to economic challenges faced by consumers, illustrating just how important protecting the environment is to consumers.

Furthermore, environmentalists are cautioning brands to avoid the assumption that eco-conscious consumers are all young consumers, as figures show that older shoppers spend, on average, more on sustainable goods than their younger counterparts. However, that’s not to say that younger generations are not engaged with preventing climate change, they just don’t necessarily have the same level of expendable income.

"Brands and retailers have a unique opportunity to stand out amongst the crowd by demonstrating their eco-credentials and baking sustainability into the fabric of their business."

According to the World Health Organisation, “Climate change presents a fundamental threat to human health. It affects the physical environment as well as all aspects of both natural and human systems – including social and economic conditions and the functioning of health systems.” It’s therefore not surprising that around 75% of consumers in the UK are concerned about climate change.

“Choice has never been more abundant for modern-day shoppers,” Kit Nicholl, co-founder and COO of reewild told FoodNavigator. “Winning their support has therefore never been harder. Today's consumer demands more than just a product; they demand authenticity, responsibility, and a shared commitment to a sustainable future. It is no longer enough to simply sell; brands must inspire, inform, and actively contribute to a global ethos of responsible consumption.”

Make it count

Despite these positive findings, consumers do still demand value for money and will not simply pay higher prices for a product with green credentials, particularly as the cost-of-living crisis continues to squeeze people's budgets. Buying based on environmental values is still considered to be a luxury for many, as people prioritise spending within their means. 

"The affordable sustainability dilemma has been present for years, yet in 2023, it has gained relevance as the cost-of-living crisis has limited sustainability adoption. Consumers are highly concerned about climate change and are willing to protect the planet. They want to embrace sustainable lifestyles, yet premium prices are still limiting wider adoption," says Euromonitor International.

What does the dominance of eco-conscious consumers mean for manufacturers?

The World Economic Forum has found that “many consumers believe brands bear as much responsibility for positive change as governments.” This shows the responsibility consumers are placing on manufacturers and so it’s important that brands are recognising their role in sustainability.

However, in spite of this, the study found that 53% of people do not believe businesses are doing enough to prevent climate change.

“Brands and retailers have a unique opportunity to stand out amongst the crowd by demonstrating their eco-credentials and baking sustainability into the fabric of their business,” says Nicholl. “By increasing their assortment of sustainable products, and incentivising the purchase of lower impact goods through competitive pricing and/or targeted offers, manufacturers have the chance to steal a march on the competition and gain market advantage.”

The study found that overall, consumers are willing to spend up to 12% more for sustainable products, so it’s worth the investment.

Eco-conscious consumer - GettyImages-jonya
Is eco-friendly eco-nomically savvy? Getty/Images-jonya

Don’t go greenwashing!

Greenwashing is a big no no for consumers who, along with regulators, are becoming wise to the ways of some crafty brand marketers, who bend the truth for a catchy advert or simply don’t fully understand the subject of sustainability.

The problem of green washing “is huge,” Alexis Eyre, sustainable marketing consultant and co-author of Sustainable Marketing told FoodNavigator. “Brands can see that it gives many customers that warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that they are buying something that is perceived to be 'slightly better' for the planet. The problem is that so few marketers understand sustainability so when they are asked to communicate a company's sustainability credentials, they broadcast messaging without fully understanding what they are saying. This combined with the much deeper-rooted issue that marketing continues to use traditional toolkits whilst dipping its toes into sustainability, meaning greenwashing is inevitable. Having said that, I honestly believe that 99% of marketers do not intentionally mean to greenwash but the lack of knowledge and understanding of what is really at stake is an enormous hindrance.”

"Despite it being wonderful to see so many brands using their channels to raise awareness of environmental and societal issues, the lack of transparency and truth in brand marketing is also eroding customer trust."

Transparency builds trust and being caught veering from the truth, with regards to eco practices, will deter people. Furthermore, many consumers will switch to, and stay loyal to, brands, which make substantiated impact-driven eco-friendly claims so it’s in the best interest of brands to establish strong and honest sustainability practices.

“Despite it being wonderful to see so many brands using their channels to raise awareness of environmental and societal issues, the lack of transparency and truth in brand marketing is also eroding customer trust. This in turn is also affecting those brands who are actually doing it correctly meaning no one wins, adds Eyre”

What can governments do to help manufacturers become more eco-friendly?

“A lot more could be done by governments to support this transition, but we're seeing strong regulatory tailwinds with regards to forcing brands to be more transparent about their climate impact,” says Nicholl. “This, coupled with the growing consumer demand for greener goods, will dictate the shift to more sustainable practices. From there, effective communication of a brand’s purpose and impact will determine whether it sinks or swims.”

This is echoed by Eyre, saying, “More legislation is coming out next year in terms of the new EU directive on green claims, meaning authorities are going to be cracking down even more. However, I don't want to see brands decide it is too big a risk to communicate anything and go underground, effectively 'greenhushing'. As the economy rapidly adopts sustainability, marketing must catch up, evolve and adopt a new role, moving from an engine of exploitative growth to an engine of wellbeing. This means embedding sustainability into every single aspect of marketing from branding and strategy right through to tactics governance and performance metrics.”

Related topics Market Trends

Related news

Show more

Follow us


View more