• 85% of consumers adopted at least one lifestyle change to be more sustainable last year, with a third (32%) considered “highly engaged”; up 17 percentage points from before the pandemic;
  • Three-fifths (61%) of consumers reduced their single-use plastic usage, while two-fifths (39%) are buying fewer new goods than they were a year ago, driven by Gen-Z and younger Millennials;
  • A third of consumers look for brands with strong sustainable (34%) and ethical (30%) credentials;
  • However, of those consumers who did not reduce purchases to be more sustainable, a quarter (24%) are either disinterested or unaware of there being a sustainability issue.
  • Deloitte’s Sustainable Consumer research surveyed 2,000 UK adults.

Environmental awareness amongst UK consumers has surged in the past year with 85% now making more sustainable lifestyle choices, according to Deloitte’s latest Sustainable Consumer research.

The findings, based on responses from 2,000 UK adults, reveal consumer behaviour is also being driven by three priorities: waste reduction, reducing their carbon footprint and a desire to adopt more circular practices, such as buying products in sustainable packaging.

Gavin Hood, advisory corporate finance partner at Deloitte in Scotland, said: “A year of successive lockdowns in the UK has had a knock-on effect on consumers’ environmental awareness and consequential behaviour. Daily walks, for example, mean many have familiarised themselves with their local surroundings, or perhaps noted a fall in traffic amidst the strictest lockdown periods. Likewise, limited opportunities for socialising and prolonged working from home has been reflected in reduced consumer demand, with many having made fewer new purchases altogether.”

Plastic not fantastic

Deloitte’s research found that 61% of respondents have limited their use of single-use plastic in the last year, by far the most common way in which consumers are being more consciously sustainable, albeit down eight percentage points from March 2020. Responses indicate that the pandemic has reinforced the appeal of local commerce, with almost half of all consumers buying more locally-produced goods (45%) and seasonal produce (49%).

Emily Cromwell, sustainability director at Deloitte, added: “Whilst the focus on limiting single-use plastic remains high, its year-on-year reduction may be attributed to consumers making much broader decisions for a more sustainable lifestyle. Restrictions on movement in the last year is likely to have driven a need to buy goods locally, but the draw of a community farm shop or independent business, for example, means what was a lockdown necessity may become more permanent.”

Out with the new

Deloitte’s research also reveals a number of generational differences in sustainability behaviours. Whilst pre-Baby Boomers (aged 74+) were the most likely generation to have reduced their use of single-use plastic in the last 12 months, Gen-Z and younger Millennials have led the trend towards reducing the purchase of new goods.

Hood said: “For many consumers, the first UK lockdown was an opportunity to clear out unwanted items from wardrobes and garages. At the same time, staying home reduced demand for new products and goods, with spending instead being diverted towards home entertainment, subscription boxes or virtual services. For some, the ‘need for less’ has gone a step further, with younger consumers in particular reducing the amount of new things they buy entirely. For those motivated by sustainability, drivers may include circular fashion trends and the rise of consumer-to-consumer platforms.”

Brand power

Despite the overall increase in environmental awareness, the research also found that a quarter (24%) of respondents who do not reduce the amount they buy in order to be more sustainable, do so because they are either disinterested or unaware of there being a sustainability issue.

Cromwell added: “Whilst sustainability is already front of mind for many, there is still more to be done to help consumers make better-informed decisions. Many consumers would like more help on how to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, such as how to recycle old products. Likewise, many are also prepared to pay more for goods and services from ethically and environmentally sustainable brands.”

Deloitte’s research found that around a third of consumers have actively chosen brands in the last year with strong sustainable (34%) and ethical (30%) credentials, with some avoiding those perceived to lack these values (28%).

Cromwell concluded: “Consumers have made up their minds about which brands have delivered on sustainable or ethical expectations over the course of the pandemic. How this will impact brand power and future purchasing decisions remains to be seen.”