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Behavior Change
People Need Help Turning Healthy, Sustainable Aspirations into Action

New global public-opinion research from GlobeScan reveals that people need and want help from brands to change their lifestyles to become healthier and more sustainable.

Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, results from GlobeScan’s 2020 Healthy & Sustainable Living Study show that people remain concerned about the environment and climate change, and most would like to adopt both healthier and more sustainable behaviors. However, not all have been able to follow through.

The study of 27 countries was conducted in June 2020, during the height of the pandemic for many. In total, 27,000 people were asked about their attitudes, opinions and behaviors linked to facilitating healthier and more sustainable lifestyles. The study was collaboratively designed and launched with a range of partners — including CVS Health, IKEA, PepsiCo, Visa, WWF International and others — to help companies better understand the mindsets of people globally and how to best help them make changes.

The pandemic has not dampened interest in protecting the environment

Although the pandemic and subsequent recession have certainly intensified people’s worries around health and the economy, the study finds that environmental and climate concerns remain surprisingly strong. Across the 27 markets surveyed, the proportions saying that climate change is a “very serious” problem have remained relatively steady everywhere — except in China, where it has increased. In the US, attitudes toward climate change are aligning with the rest of the world as proportions regarding the issue as “very serious” continue to trend upward.

Despite parallel global crises, people have become more likely to claim they would like to reduce their impact on the environment and nature by a large amount; and are also more likely to agree that we need to consume less to preserve the environment for future generations. A majority now at least somewhat agree that they feel guilty about their own negative impact on the environment, up from 43 percent last year. Brands need to be conscious of, and responsive to, the strengthening of environmental consciousness among consumers during this unique time.

People are ready for action, but need help

According to the study, large proportions of people globally are willing to change their own behaviors to become healthier, more environmentally friendly, and more helpful to others. As many as six in ten (61 percent) say they want to change their lifestyle a great deal to be healthier, while half (50 percent) want to change “a great deal” to be more environmentally sustainable and close to another half (47 percent) want to do the same to be more altruistic. Relatively large proportions are also open to modest changes in their lifestyles.

Fewer, however, say they have managed to make substantial changes in their own lives over the past year — suggesting a significant need for brands to step up and help make it easier. While as many as three in ten (31 percent) say they have made major changes to be healthier — citing actions such as more exercise and heathier eating; and quitting unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking — only about one in four have made major changes to become more environmentally friendly (25 percent) or more helpful to others (24 percent).

Those who have made changes to become more sustainable tend to say they have reduced their use of plastics; or are managing their waste better by sorting, recycling and reusing more, as well as cutting down on packaging. Many also mention that they have made a switch to more environmentally friendly products. Altruistic actions tend to be associated with charitable donations, volunteering time, or supporting friends and family in need. Brands can help more consumers engage in these types of actions that many are already doing, especially by making it easier to choose more sustainable products.

Younger people are more engaged

Younger generations are consistently more eager to make a significant effort to become healthier, more environmentally friendly and more helpful to others. As many as seven in ten Gen Z respondents (70 percent) and two-thirds of Millennials (66 percent) say they want to become healthier. Four in ten Gen Z respondents (40 percent) and Millennials (37 percent) have also followed through by making major changes to become healthier, in contrast to far fewer of those belonging to Gen X (29 percent) and Baby Boomers+ (20 percent). While a large gap between intention and action persists for all generations, younger generations are clearly the most in need of assistance and present the largest opportunity for brands to help facilitate behavior change.

Brands need to make it easier and cheaper for people to change

Not surprisingly, the study found that when trying to be healthier and more sustainable, people across the world are more likely to alter aspects of their life if they perceive it to be easy to do so — emphasizing the need for brands to communicate effectively to change perceptions and to make user-friendliness and accessibility a priority. Simply speaking, people are put off by actions they believe are difficult.

Typically, the behaviors that people think of as relatively easy to do more of are associated with improving personal wellbeing (e.g., eating healthy food), ethical purchasing (e.g., choosing products with less packaging, buying from responsible brands), and actions within the household (e.g., saving water). More “difficult” changes tend to involve adapting new technologies (e.g., using an electric or hybrid car, generating/buying renewable energy) or participating in new economic models (e.g., renting furniture or clothes, sharing mobility devices). Perceptions of these emerging behaviors is likely negatively affected by a lack of awareness, access and affordability.

Findings show that affordability is particularly important when encouraging the uptake of healthy and sustainable behaviors. When asked what companies could do to help them, people are most likely to point to more affordable products and services, followed by product innovation. Results of this study confirm the importance and urgency of doing so at scale, since people say they are ready and waiting.

Download the 2020 Healthy & Sustainable Living Study highlights report here.

Register to attend the Healthy & Sustainable Living Webinar* on 7 October 2020 at 11am New York / 4pm London here.