• Stephane Nusbaumer, Partner |

According to the first international consumer barometer prepared by KPMG in collaboration with the Center for Research in Retailing (IFH) in Cologne, consumers in Europe have a high level of sustainability awareness.

Key facts

  • 86 percent of consumers surveyed in Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the UK consider the topics of sustainability and sustainable consumption either important or very important.
  • One in every five Swiss consumers feels social pressure to engage with the topic of sustainability. 
  • The biggest obstacles to establishing a sustainable lifestyle are the additional financial burden imposed by higher prices for sustainable products as well as uncertainty as to how to make helpful contributions toward sustainability.
  • Recycling represents an important or very important aspect of sustainability for 98 percent of the people of Switzerland.

Widespread agreement on the topic of sustainability

Among the consumers surveyed in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the UK, 29 percent consider the topics of sustainability and sustainable consumption to be very important. This group actively seeks out information and deliberately and consciously buys sustainable products. This sentiment was expressed more commonly by households with children (32 percent) than in households without children (27 percent).

While the subject of sustainability was considered important by 57 percent of consumers, they have trouble identifying where to start engaging with it in their personal everyday life. They would do more if there was a transparent and standardized sustainability profile for consumer goods.

Of the people surveyed, 11 percent do not consider sustainability to be a very important issue; they don’t want to have to deal with it and don’t want to restrict themselves. Only 3 percent of respondents consider the topic of sustainability generally unimportant.

Around a fifth of the people in Switzerland feel social pressure

When consumers were asked why they engage with the topic of sustainability, the most common responses were to create a better climate balance for future generations (54 percent) and to preserve/protect the respondent’s own personal health (53 percent). Nearly one in three surveyed indicated that they were very aware of media coverage on the containment of global warming and therefore feel obligated to engage with the topic. 15 percent feel social pressure to engage with the topic; at 19 percent, this figure was much higher in Switzerland than in other countries.

Price as the biggest obstacle

61 percent of respondents who find sustainability rather or very important state that the financial burden poses the biggest challenge when it comes to sustainable consumption. At 71 percent, this response was cited much more frequently in Germany than in other countries and much less frequently in Italy (52 percent).

45 percent of respondents who consider sustainability at least important pointed out that they find it difficult to make a helpful contribution toward sustainability. Making their own lives more sustainable and adapting accordingly was cited as a challenge by around a third of those surveyed. At 37 percent, this figure is slightly higher in Switzerland and the UK than in Germany (36 percent); consumers from Italy are significantly less likely to perceive the switch as a challenge (25 percent).

Even in the group where sustainability plays either no role or merely a minor role, price is the decisive factor (57 percent of respondents). Other reasons provided by those respondents included an interest in other topics (29 percent) and the feeling of being patronized (28 percent).

Recycling as the aspect of sustainability that enjoys the strongest agreement

When asked about the importance of individual sustainability aspects, all participants agreed strongly with all options, but especially with recycling: Almost all (96 percent) cited it as important or very important. Switzerland is the country with the highest scores on this option, with around 98 percent of respondents there citing it as being important or very important to them. Around 93 percent of respondents consider fair working conditions, ensuring animal welfare and prohibiting child labor to be important or very important. 

Compared to other countries, the use of renewable energies is particularly important in Switzerland, where this was cited as at least important to more than 93 percent of those surveyed. The seasonality of food also plays a more major role in Switzerland (90 percent of responses) than in Germany (86 percent) or the UK (84 percent); Italians actually consider it even more important (92 percent). Generally speaking, Italians attach greater importance to individual sustainability aspects than respondents in the other countries. 

Desire for transparent communication about sustainability

Private households’ mindfulness of sustainability aspects is increasingly making sustainability a competitive factor for companies. To that end, the companies must communicate the social, environmental and economic aspects of their products both credibly and seriously, because consumers need an enormous amount of information.

For instance, the company website should provide details about resource consumption, the rate of recycled raw materials and compliance with legal production standards by suppliers, because that is the channel chosen by around one in three consumers seeking information.

However, according to nearly half of those surveyed, sustainability-related activities should be validated by a neutral third party by means of test reports or labels granted by sustainability associations (like Fair Trade). Nearly a third of respondents indicated that company ratings awarded by external ratings agencies are important when they are looking for information. Consumers are increasingly sensitive to greenwashing and companies’ inflationary use of the term sustainability.

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