The palpable shift in attitudes and behavior spans all the countries in our research. Eighty-five percent of respondents report that they have shifted their purchase behavior towards being more sustainable in the past five years. Eighty-six percent have made lifestyle changes. However, there are some significant differences within individual countries arising as a function of industrialization maturity and culture.
Country differences have their roots in their industrial heritage and its relative impact on their society. For example, in Japan, industrial growth has had a major environmental impact due to the high use of plastics and its dependence on fossil fuel. At the 1992 ‘Earth Summit,’ it announced its intention to take a leadership role, investing in greener technologies, reducing its carbon consumption and tackling global environmental issues through cooperation with other nations in Asia and beyond. A range of environmentally friendly new laws and policies followed.
For China, ‘the world’s factory’, and Brazil, where industrialization is still expanding, it is the pollution and contamination impact that has driven the focus.
For both countries, there is a strong consumer demand for government and business to play a more-significant role in environmental improvement. For the UK and the US, whose industrial past has been replaced by new forms of work, it has taken much greater awareness of climate change and the impact of plastics to generate action. For Australia, the carbon impact on biodiversity, rising sea levels, floods, heat waves, bushfires and drought are driving change.
Germany has pioneered renewable-energy research with high levels of public funding and achieved high public awareness of the need for a low-carbon future. Italy and Spain, where travel and tourism are big economic contributors, have a different set of challenges when it comes to decarbonization. These individual country factors all play a role in how their respective populations view sustainability and the urgency with which it needs to be tackled.
Attitudes are changing in the same way universally, but the pace of behavior change varies by country
Attitudinal and behavior change varies across the age groups, but in each country, when it comes to sustainability, it is age and income that are the determinant. Specifically, it is the millennial effect. Higher income millennials regardless of country, are very focused on their environmental impact. Their attitudes are shaping the behaviors of other age groups either directly, through influence on friends and family members, or indirectly as firms respond to their needs. Generation Z are slightly less driven from a lifestyle perspective but as likely to purchase sustainably.
When looking at consumers who have either made significant changes to their purchasing behavior or completely changed their way of living to be more sustainable, Australia leads the way (42 percent), followed by Italy (41 percent), Spain (35 percent) and Germany (34 percent).
The US lags somewhat with 22 percent of consumers reporting major changes to their behavior, but that number increases to 55 percent when including those who say they’ve at least made some modest changes, suggesting that this is a timing rather than systemic difference.
Consumer expectations of companies are similar, and consumers want to do their part
The sentiment is echoed across regions amongst the Americas (87 percent), Europe (90 percent) and APAC (81 percent). There are differences within regions where 79 percent of Chinese, 93 percent of Italians, and 93 percent of Brazilians have such expectations of companies.
Individuals feel the need to reduce consumption or recycle wherever possible (86 percent). This is felt across regions amongst the Americas (89 percent), Europe (88 percent) and APAC (81 percent); 78 percent of Chinese and 79 percent of Germans (below global average), 93 percent of Italians, and within Americas, 96 percent of Brazilians feel the need to reduce consumption or recycle where possible.
Consumers are taking responsible and personal steps towards sustainability
Consumers believe that it is important to reduce consumption, re-use and recycle as much as possible. Eighty-one percent of consumers in APAC agree with this sentiment. Twenty-nine percent of consumers globally try to buy second-hand goods whereas it is slightly less at 27 percent in APAC. For the remaining regions, this number is equal to (Europe) or slightly above the global average of 29 percent. Within APAC, there is a marked polarization: 37 percent in China and 33 percent in Australia try to buy second-hand goods, whereas only 11 percent in Japan feel the same.
Europe is above the global average in all areas of resource usage, spending, eating and drinking habits and travel. The Americas are slightly below the global average in most areas, while APAC is below the global average across each of these areas.
Within APAC, we notice Australia faring above the global average in most areas. In Japan, we notice the number of consumers acting on sustainability is lower than the global average in all areas except taking own bags during shopping (83 percent) and avoiding flights (70 percent).
Within the Americas, we notice that the US is faring below the global average in all areas, except avoiding fast fashion (56 percent against global average of 49 percent).
Brazil also fares below the global average in most areas, the exception being opting for electronic bills (75 percent), re-using things (76 percent), using reusable cups (68 percent) and trying to reduce consumption of animal products (48 percent).
New patterns of purchasing behavior emerge
Sixty-four percent of consumers globally want to be able to understand the environmental impact before buying something. The sentiments are similar across regions: Thirty-eight percent of consumers globally buy products from companies that proactively seek to reduce their environmental impact.
This is slightly lower in APAC (33 percent of consumers) compared to the remaining other regions, where this number is slightly above average. Within APAC, we notice an exception where 52 percent of Chinese buy from companies that try to reduce environmental impact, while 12 percent of consumers in Japan follow the same.
We also see an exception in the Americas, where we observe this behavior among 62 percent of consumers in Brazil.
Expectations of business and government
Eighty percent of consumers globally want governments to support businesses and individuals to gain access to renewable sources of energy. Similar sentiments are shared across the regions.
However, globally, only 26 percent of consumers always/often invest in sustainable energy sources for their homes, 31 percent of consumers in APAC always/often invest in sustainable energy sources, while 24 percent of consumers do the same in the Americas and Europe.
Within APAC, we notice an exception where 49 percent of consumers in China invest in sustainable energy sources for their home, while 11 percent in Japan do the same. Within the Americas, 18 percent of consumers in Canada invest in sustainable energy sources for their home.
Sixty-nine percent of consumers feel governments need to prioritize global sustainability over national interests. Similar levels of this sentiment are shared across the regions.
Expectations of cities
of consumers globally feel cities need to be redesigned to prioritize walking/cycling. Similar sentiments are shared across regions
of consumers globally feel there is a need to protect green space and natural habitats
of consumers in APAC agree with this perception
of Brazilians feel there is a need to protect green space and natural habitats
Globally, 49 percent of consumers care about energy being green and not only cheap. Forty-two percent of consumers in APAC, 52 percent of consumers in Europe and fifty-one percent of consumers in the Americas share this sentiment. Thirty-six in China care about their energy being green and not just cheap, while the number is higher in Italy (63 percent).
Globally, fifty-nine percent of consumers take steps to monitor their energy usage and fourty-three percent try to use green energy where possible. Forty-six of consumers in APAC take steps to monitor energy consumption, while sixty-seven percent in Europe and Sixty percent in the Americas follow this behavior. Twenty-five of consumers in Japan take steps to monitor their energy consumption, while the number is higher in Brazil (Eighty-one percent).
Fifty percent of consumers globally feel that plastic and chemical pollution due to rapid development is not justified. Fifty-six percent of consumers in the Americas and Fifty-two percent in Europe feel the same, while Forty-one percent of consumers in APAC feel that plastic and chemical pollution due to rapid development is not justified. But only Twenty percent of consumers in China believe that plastic and chemical pollution due to rapid development is not justified.
Forty-five of consumers globally do not use products that contain/release ingredients that damage our water systems and ocean. Similar behavior is followed across the regions. However, we note exceptions where the number of consumers avoiding such products is highest in China (Fifty-nine percent) and lowest in Japan (Twenty-five percent).
Thirty-nine feel that damage to the environment through deforestation and species extinction can be avoided. However, this is skewed towards the Americas (fifty percent) and Europe (forty-one percent). twenty-five percent of consumers in APAC feel that damage to the environment through deforestation can be avoided, with Twelve percent in China and Eighteen percent in Japan.
Forty-nine of consumers globally avoid products that contribute to deforestation or destruction of natural habitats. Similar behavior is followed across the regions. However, within APAC, we noted exceptions where Sixty-two percent of consumers in China avoid such products while this number is lowest in Japan at Twenty-seven percent.
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