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Behavior Change
2 in 3 People May Be Willing to Halve Their Consumption to Help Save the Planet

68% of people ‘somewhat agree’ they’d reduce their consumption by half to avoid environmental damage and climate change — especially those with worried children at home, according to a new survey. But the gap between aspirations and actions remains wide in all countries.

GlobeScan’s 2022 Healthy & Sustainable Living Study, which surveyed almost 30,000 people across 31 markets, shows that global concern about climate change is at an all-time high and that a majority of people living with children under 18 (63 percent) say their children are very worried about environmental problems and climate change. People living in these households are more likely than the average to have a strong desire to live sustainably and are much more likely to have made major changes to do so.

The cost-of-living crisis is also affecting consumers’ willingness to pay for more purposeful products and brands. Amid widespread increases in daily expenses, consumers have become less likely to say they are willing to pay more for products or brands that contribute positively to society or the environment, especially in Europe (a finding contrary to that of GreenPrint’s recently released Business of Sustainability Index, which surveyed US consumers) — as many as three in four people around the world agree that environmentally responsible products have become more expensive in the past year.

Majorities in 23 out of 31 markets say they are “greatly affected” by increased costs of living, but people in emerging markets tend to feel the most affected. As consumers are becoming less able — and less willing — to pay a premium for sustainable products, it is becoming increasingly important for brands to focus on affordability and access.

“Many consumers continue to need organizations and brands to help them lead the healthier and more sustainable lifestyles they aspire to but are unable to achieve — especially those with less purchasing power and those who are younger,” Tom Firth, Founding Partner at M&C Saatchi LIFE, a partner in the study. “Although we see positive trends toward more frequent sustainable behaviors, the gap between aspirations and actions remains wide in all countries. It is essential for brands and organizations to make different aspects of sustainable living easier for consumers — especially those with limited means — in order to encourage more frequent action.”

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GlobeScan’s Healthy & Sustainable Living research has been tracking consumer attitudes and behaviors around living healthier and more sustainable lifestyles since 2019. The 2022 study was designed by GlobeScan with a range of partners including Akatu Institute, IKEA, Levi Strauss & Co, M&C Saatchi Group, NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, P&G, PepsiCo, Reckitt, Visa and WWF International. The goal of the study is to help organizations better understand the mindsets of consumers globally and what enables them or prevents them from adopting healthier and more sustainable habits.

As in previous years, the research shows that there is widespread desire among consumers to change their behaviors to be healthier and more sustainable, but the gap between desire and action remains persistent. Consumers with low purchasing power, those who are younger, and consumers in emerging markets experience the largest gaps between aspirations and action.

Despite recent discussions about greenwashing, the study reveals that consumers remain interested in sustainability marketing communications — and most of those who have heard or read about a company’s sustainability messaging say that they trust these communications (80 percent). Most consumers also say that environmental friendliness plays a significant role in how they make purchasing decisions across all tested product categories — especially cleaning products, personal care products, and packaged food and beverages. The limited reach of information about products’ environmental benefits and the positive response that this type of information elicits from consumers highlights the opportunity for more communications from brands to support their sustainable offerings and guide consumers — especially those who are older.

Key findings include:

  • Concern about climate change and environmental issues continues to grow — 65 percent of people now say climate change is “very serious,” up from 48 percent in 2003 among 17 tracked markets.

  • 40 percent of people across the world say that they would not want to have children because of climate change.

  • 68 percent at least “somewhat agree” that they would be willing to reduce their consumption by half to avoid environmental damage and climate change, especially those with worried children at home (85 percent).

  • Although half (50 percent) say they would like to change their lifestyle “a great deal” to be more environmentally friendly, only 26 percent claim to have made “major changes” in the past year to reduce their impact.

  • 55 percent of consumers across 23 markets tracked between 2019 and 2022 now say they at least “somewhat agree” they would be willing to pay more for products or brands that work to improve society and the environment, down from 58 percent in 2021 and 2020. Willingness to pay more has declined the most in Australia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Nigeria, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

  • Only about half of people believe that it is at least probable that most people will live sustainable lifestyles within the coming decade. Those who believe that sustainability is possible in the near future are much more likely than others to feel compelled to live more sustainably themselves, and to have taken major steps to change their habits in the past year. Making inevitability — and desirability — of sustainable lifestyles an integral part of the narrative going forward may help accelerate more systemic behavior change.

“With the urgency of climate action continuing to grow, now is the time to redouble efforts to empower millions of consumers to adopt more sustainable behaviors and make more sustainable choices,” says Visa Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Sabo. “Doing so starts with Visa and other partners helping the ecosystem of commerce better understand consumers’ sustainable living ambitions and aspirations, which is why the Healthy & Sustainable Living Study is so important year after year.”