Can inflation drive more climate-conscious consumption?

As consumer grapple with rising prices they are increasingly assessing the environmental impact of their purchases.
16 June 2022
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Karine Trinquetel
Karine
Trinquetel

Global Innovation and Sustainability Lead

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From the data collected in Kantar’s Global Issues Barometer, it seems that these two crises should not be pitched against each another. On the contrary, the inflation we are currently experiencing could become a pivotal moment for sustainability. 

In Kantar’s Global Issues Barometer, we asked people to tell us in their own words, what they were thinking, feeling, and doing about what is going on in the world around them. By avoiding the heavy use of pre-coded questions and attached cultural assumptions, we aimed to avoid influencing people’s thoughts and answers.

A key finding from this study is that, although inflation is a key concern for people, it is not experienced in a vacuum. In people’s minds, challenges linked to the economy and climate change are altogether amounting to a general sense of risk and both need to be solved. 

GIB chart 1
 

Inflation is creating a time to reflect on consumption behaviors


Prices have increased in all sectors and all countries. If a portion of people (6% globally) already cannot afford food basics and should be supported, for now, most people can afford the essentials of food and household bills. And most people can still afford to go out for a coffee in a coffee shop or go for a meal out at a restaurant or buy new clothes. However, there is an emerging sense of prudence - people are more careful about spending their money on discretionary or big-ticket categories. 

With this sense of prudence, people are making or planning to make some cutbacks on general expenditure; they are having to or considering stopping doing certain things and changing some behaviors like driving less or heating their houses less. 

 

GIB chart 2
 

In parallel, we know from previous Kantar research that, at the moment, people are focused on better managing their waste and reducing their consumption to tackle climate change issues. GIB chart 3

 

Thus, there is a convergence of considered actions by the general public to both manage the challenges of inflation and tackle climate change issues. As the pressure around the cost-of-living crisis will likely intensify over the next few months, people will increasingly think about what is essential to them versus what is expendable. When making these trade-offs, they could favour solutions in line with circular economy principles, that is anything that makes better use of existing resources and avoids waste. Brands like Vinted, enabling people to sell and buy second-hand fashion, or Back Market, a platform that refurbishes devices and put them back in circulation, are certainly profiting from this opportunity.

The greatest responsibility of brands lies with climate

Despite all the other challenges happening across the world, people’s desire to become sustainable has not eroded:

  • 60% of people feel they can make a difference through their choices and actions. 
  • 48% say they are prepared to invest their time and money to support companies that try to do good.

They are expecting brands to support them on this journey. We found in our barometer that, across all issues covered, businesses have the greatest responsibility for tackling climate change. They expect brands to be part of the solution. This finding reinforces the importance for businesses to have an effective sustainability strategy in place as they are certainly being held accountable in this space.

GIB chart 4
 
Additionally, half of the people we interviewed have already modified their purchasing behaviours to some extent as 49% said they have stopped buying certain products/services because of their impact on the environment or society. This shows that brands risk losing relevance if they lag behind the general public opinion on these topics.

Undeniably there is a tension between people’s engagement with sustainability and the affordability of green options as 66% say they want to buy environmentally sustainable products, but brands will have to make sure they can still afford them. So brands must ensure that they are pricing their green offers at a level that the mass market can tolerate, or this could hinder consumers’ adoption of green products.

Brands that can offer sustainable and meaningful options that are affordable will be favoured and therefore more likely to shape a competitive advantage from creating positive environmental and societal impact. 

The 2008 recession kick-started the sharing economy movement, making the success of brands like AirBnB, Uber, and TaskRabbit. We are seeing indications that this episode of inflation could move us toward a greener consumption, accelerating the transition toward more sustainable consumption. The question is – which brands will unlock this opportunity?

Click here to find out more about the study and the latest findings.

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