Sustainability has entered new territory, with consumers making conscious “choices about where they shop and what they buy based on sustainable offerings,” Footprint founder and CEO Troy Swope said.
Footprint, a global materials science technology company based in Gilbert, Ariz., released March 22 findings from its multicountry research study examining consumer attitudes toward single-use plastics, as well as their expectations of brands and retailers, and found that across all countries and age demographics, 87% of consumers agreed that companies have a responsibility to protect the planet and its people. (Footprint had previously provided select highlights from this study, which was conducted by Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, for WGB’s 2022 Sustainable Packaging Report).
A majority of consumers surveyed (85%) also said they agreed that brands should play a major role in addressing sustainability issues because brands are contributors to the problem, and 78% said companies and brands are not doing enough to protect the planet. In grocery, specifically, 86% of respondents said grocery stores should do more to reduce the amount of plastic packaging being sold, Footprint found.
As such, consumers are being increasingly selective in where they shop and what they buy, with 68% more likely to choose a brand, store or restaurant that uses sustainable packaging; 65% saying they’d switch grocery stores if they knew the store was committed to sustainable packaging rather than plastic; and 77% would be more likely to buy products if they could be sure they were packaged sustainably.
Furthermore, Footprint found that consumers generally express negative emotions when buying products that are packaged in plastic, including “guilty,” “annoyed” and “frustrated,” while sustainable packaging emotes “reassured,” “happy” and “relieved” feelings.
“Brands taking a leadership role in offering sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics have an enormous opportunity to not only make a difference for our planet, but also influence consumers through sustainable packaging,” Swope said.
Brands and companies can also benefit from making sustainability options “more accessible, convenient and straightforward,” added Marie Stafford, global director for Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.
When asked about their sustainability-related habits, consumers are most likely to say they take straightforward steps, such as recycling at home (89% say they do so monthly), avoiding single-use plastic (72% monthly) and refusing plastic bags while shopping (70% monthly).
Furthermore, 80% of consumers said they like the idea of a plastic-free shopping aisle, and 83% like the idea of a sustainable or plastic-free search option for online grocery shopping. When it comes to shopping for groceries online, 53% said they prefer this method because it’s easier to tell if a product comes in sustainable packaging.
"This is not just about doing the right thing; there’s a powerful business case here, too," Stafford said. "We have found that most people show a marked preference for brands who are demonstrating commitment and taking action on sustainability issues."
Footprint notes that consumer concern about sustainability is cross-generational as well. While Gen Z has a reputation for being the most concerned about climate change and sustainability issues, it said, the importance is felt nearly equally across generations. All generations worry about how their actions might impact future generations, with Boomers being slightly less concerned (68%), compared to 72% of Gen X, 77% of Millennials and 74% of Gen Z.
On behalf of Footprint, Chicago-based Wunderman Thompson Intelligence surveyed 5,000 (1,000 per market) individuals over the age of 18 in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The survey was fielded using Wunderman Thompson’s online research tool, and the panel was sourced from EMI Research Solutions. Fielding was executed between Jan. 19-28, 2022.