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The Sustainable Consumer 2023

Adoption of more sustainable lifestyles continues to grow, but sustainable choices need to be made more affordable and widely accessible for consumers to contribute to the net zero transition.

Understanding consumers’ attitudes to sustainability

Understanding consumers’ attitudes to sustainability and how to influence change is important. Consumer spending accounts for over a quarter of all UK emissions. In fact, it is the single largest contributor to total UK greenhouse gas emissions.

This is the fourth year Deloitte has conducted a survey into consumer attitudes to sustainability and sustainable behaviours. Our latest research shows that consumers continue to become more environmentally conscious. However, given inflationary pressures, the increasing adoption of sustainable lifestyles may be more about saving money than saving the planet. This year, more consumers are adopting sustainable lifestyles by choosing goods that are more durable or that can be reused or repaired easily. With economic uncertainty continuing, the question is: how much of this behavioural change will become permanent?

Research findings

Key findings

On balance more consumers have adopted a sustainable lifestyle in 2023 compared with a year ago.

In the past 12 months there has been an increase in the proportion of consumers saying they have adopted a more sustainable lifestyle across 11 of the 23 sustainable behaviours we track in our research. In contrast, there was a fall in six of them.

 

The rising cost of living is influencing sustainable choices.

In a sign that the cost of living crisis is having an impact, behaviours with the largest increase in adoption this year include buying more second-hand items, paying more for longer-lasting products, repairing more, and using the car less.

 

More consumers are taking sustainability into consideration when making a purchase.

In addition to adopting money-saving sustainable behaviours, more consumers are taking into consideration durability and repairability when making a purchase in 2023, and whether products are labelled as responsibly sourced or manufactured, or support biodiversity.

 

The huge rise in energy prices in 2023 drove the majority of consumers to save energy wherever possible.

While most consumers have tried to lower their energy consumption, for example by reducing the number of hours when their heating is on, less than a third have adopted the more expensive energy-saving options such as improving the insulation of their home or installing solar panels or heat pumps.

 

Sustainable packaging and products, and reducing waste, are the two practices consumers value the most.

Frequently-purchased and essential items, such as groceries and everyday household products, drive consumer interest in sustainable and ethical values the most.

 

Fewer consumers drive or fly than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly one in five consumers said they drive or fly less, and use public transport more, than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Circularity continues to grow in popularity.

Compared with 2022 there has been an increase in the proportion of consumers taking ‘circularity’ into consideration across 12 of 15 relevant behaviours. The biggest changes relate to circular activities aimed at saving money: 76% of consumers say they would consider using a repair service (compared with 73% in 2022), 39% are reselling more of their unwanted possessions (compared with 32% in 2022), and 34% are buying more second-hand products this year (compared with 29% in 2022).

 

A quarter of consumers are prepared to pay more for sustainability.

This includes paying more to protect biodiversity or for sustainable products and packaging, or for products or services of suppliers that respect human rights or commit to ethical working practices.

 

Affordability remains the number one barrier to the adoption of a more sustainable lifestyle.

While the main reasons for not adopting a more sustainable lifestyle remain the same as in 2022, a higher proportion of consumers mentioned them: these relate to cost (62%), a lack of interest in sustainability (58%), and not having enough information (50%). When asked what help they need to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, consumers continue to ask for sustainable alternatives to be more affordable (56%), as well as requiring more help with the removal of plastics and packaging (53%) and for clearer guidance on how to dispose of or recycle products (46%).

 

Most consumers say the commitment of businesses to sustainability influences their trust in those businesses.

A third (34%) of consumers stated that their trust in brands would be improved if they were recognised as an ethical/sustainable provider by an independent third party. A similar proportion (32%) claimed that their trust in brands would be improved if they had a transparent, accountable, and socially and environmentally responsible supply chain.

 

A note on the methodology

These findings are based on a consumer survey carried out by independent market research agency YouGov, on behalf of Deloitte. This survey was conducted online with a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 UK adults aged 18+, between 7th and 9th July 2023.

What it means for businesses

Companies from every industry are facing increasing calls from their consumers, investors and employees to play a greater role in accelerating the transition to more sustainable business practices. As they do so, they need to manage the risks and seize the opportunities created, from enhanced reputation and new revenue streams, to better risk management and business continuity.

Lead with transparency

Increased transparency not only allows consumers to make more deliberate choices about sustainability, it also supports better reporting, which increasingly is becoming a requirement.
Given the role trust plays in building consumer engagement, improving transparency can drive higher levels of loyalty. Transparency requires an underlying infrastructure, one that combines agreed standards for better ESG data collection and sharing, paired with intelligent analytics and real-time delivery of data.

 

Think sustainability first to create value and cut costs

Demonstrate to your shareholders the value creation that comes with environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) initiatives, such as decarbonisation or human rights programmes, rather than treat them just as compliance issues.

For example, revisit consumer expectations with a sustainability lens, rethink your segmentation and align your offering accordingly. Consider the impact of existing products and services, embed a circular model, and roll out sustainable products and services that satisfy the increasing demand for more sustainable alternatives outpacing your peers as a result.

Sustainability initiatives can also achieve efficiencies through cutting waste, shortening the supply chain, and achieving saving energy and water.

 

Bring circularity into your value chain

The application of circular principles offers significant potential for organisations to achieve commercial and strategic objectives including cost reduction, value chain resilience, new revenue streams and net-zero targets.

Becoming more circular is challenging, requiring engagement from functions right across the business, from operations to finance and logistics. It also relies on wider systemic change, meaning that there are often factors which fall outside a company’s direct sphere of control. Shifting to a more circular economy will require experimentation with new approaches, new technologies and revised business models.

 

Transform while building risk resilience

How an organisation responds to climate risks and opportunities will be key to its long term sustainable growth. To lead a transformation to a more sustainable business, leaders need knowledge paired with a clear action plan. They also need to ensure that every function is accountable for implementing ESG strategies that will improve and protect margins, build brand value, and enhance risk resilience.

 

Navigate and influence the wider system-level change

Be involved in your sector’s path to decarbonisation and sustainable practices, including working more closely with the policymakers, the financial sector and businesses in your wider value chain (such as logistics) to accelerate consumer access to greener products and services at standard pricing.

Also, take advantage of the policy incentives that exist in your jurisdictions, to benefit from existing grants that have been established to activate and reward sustainable developments and investments.

 

Get ahead of regulatory change

While new regulations invariably introduce additional compliance costs, they can also provide the opportunity to mobilise for change and open first-mover advantages.

As sustainability regulatory requirements and standards expand, it is essential to adopt a strategic approach to navigate the complexity, and to proactively engage with regulators.

Anticipate new regulations, such as the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will eventually require every large company to design and disclose a transition plan. Approaching regulations holistically can create value beyond compliance.

 

Empower your finance function

Regulatory and assurance requirements are driving the demand for verifiable and detailed ESG data for qualitative and quantitative disclosure.

Embed sustainability metrics and measures into the planning, budgeting and forecasting process and review cycles. Look beyond the traditional financial metrics, to also consider social and environmental information as part of management information; and adapt capital investment appraisal processes to integrate social and environmental issues.

Your finance team will have a key role in ESG disclosure as non-financial information becomes a part of many companies’ annual reports.

What consumers do

What consumers care about

What consumers need