Report: Despite Record Levels of Environmental Concern Across the World, Large Gap Remains between Aspiration and Action When it Comes to Sustainable Living

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Findings from the latest Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights study shows that the public cares more than ever about a range of environmental issues – water pollution, natural resource depletion, climate change, air pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Individuals around the world also feel personally affected by climate change. In addition, people express a strong desire to make changes to the way they live, especially those under age 30, yet there remains a large aspiration-action gap when it comes to sustainable living.

The research indicates that brands can play an important role inspiring action and people are calling for systemic change from a host of stakeholders including governments and companies to make healthy and sustainable living easy. Key findings include the following:

  • There has been a growing increase in concern about environmental issues. People across the world have never been more concerned about water pollution, natural resource depletion, climate change, air pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Globally, 63 percent of people say that climate change is a “very serious” issue while the depletion of natural resources (64%) and water pollution (65%) are the top two “very serious” issues across 17 tracking markets surveyed. 
  • More than one-third of people (36%) claim to have been strongly personally affected by climate change. People in almost all markets surveyed say that they feel more personally affected by climate change than they did one year ago.  
  • People continue to say that they would like to make significant changes to become healthier and more sustainable, but the gap between aspirations and action persists. Forty-seven percent of people say that they want to change their lifestyle “a great deal” to be more environmentally friendly, but only 23 percent of them say they have made major changes to be more environmentally friendly in the past year. Sixty percent of people say the same about being healthier, with only 28 percent of them saying that they have made major changes.
  • People want to change their behaviors but many feel that governments and companies are not doing their part to make it happen. Thirty-four percent of people claim a lack of support from business as a key barrier and 46 percent of people say that a lack of affordability is also a barrier.
  • People under the age of 30 are more open to making major changes ‒ 55 percent of those under 30 say they want to change “a great deal” compared to 44 percent of those over 30 ‒ yet their behavior often does not reflect their heightened aspirations (only 28% of those under 30 say they have made major changes in the past year). This gap between desires and actual behavior – the aspiration-action gap – is larger for younger people than for those aged 30 and up.

Building on the insights from the 2019 and 2020 Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights studies, a total of more than 30,000 people in 31 markets were surveyed about their attitudes, opinions, and behaviors linked to more sustainable and healthier lifestyles. The research was conducted in June and July 2021.

The 2021 study was designed with a range of partners including Akatu Institute, CVS Health, IKEA, Levi Strauss & Co., NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, 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 living in a healthier and more sustainable way.

Helio Mattar, President and CEO at Akatu Institute said: “Consumers make their individual consumption choices which are enabled (or limited) by practices of other social actors, especially businesses and governments, which serve as triggers or barriers to more sustainable consumption. The Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights study identifies what opportunities exist to help consumers make more sustainable consumption choices. Strong environmental and social actions by business will pay substantial dividends in terms of the preference of consumers for their brands and their products, helping the reputation of those who have defined a clear purpose and acted upon it.”

Eileen Howard Boone, Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy, Chief Sustainability Officer of CVS Health said: “The choices we make in our everyday lives can have a profound impact on our planet, and the learnings from this year’s Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights study reinforce the urgency to help drive meaningful change. Through our Transform Health 2030 strategy, we’ll reduce our overall environmental impact by at least 50 percent over ten years. If we act now, we can all play a role in preserving a healthier environment for future generations.”

Chris Coulter, CEO at GlobeScan said: “This third wave of the Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights study clarifies the tipping point we are in: people everywhere have never been more concerned or engaged on sustainability as they are now and there is an increasing role for brands to facilitate more sustainable lifestyles. Helping 8 billion people live better is an imperative for our planetary survival and a massive opportunity to build more meaningful and deeper relationships with customers. The time has never been more opportune.” 

Lena Pripp-Kovac, Chief Sustainability Officer at Inter IKEA Group said: “Today we know that many people have a great desire to live healthier and more sustainably. Still a big barrier for not doing so is that it’s perceived as too expensive. At IKEA people’s dreams and challenges are our inspiration to find new innovative solutions and we believe that healthy and sustainable choices can’t be a luxury for the few. That’s why we are transforming into a circular business, constantly working to lowering the environmental impact of our products and looking for new innovative products and solutions that enable people to reduce their environmental impact at home. All with the aim to make more sustainable solutions affordable for the many people.” 

Jeffrey Hogue, Chief Sustainability Officer at Levi Strauss & Co. said: “Levi Strauss & Co. has a long history of working with partners throughout our value chain to deliver greater sustainability impact. This includes setting ambitious targets, embedding circular products and practices throughout our operations, and talking frankly with consumers about challenges our industry faces, such as overconsumption and overproduction. The Healthy & Sustainable Living study reinforces the sense that this is what consumers want to see and reiterates our conviction that we need to earn the right to be the brand that they turn to in this moment. Consumers are critical to the effort to drive the transition to sustainability at greater scale and pace, and this study should help catalyze additional corporate action, at scale and with the necessary urgency.”

Randi Kronthal-Sacco, Senior Scholar at the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business said: “GlobeScan’s comprehensive global survey finding that people want to take action to benefit society and expect companies to take leadership is a wake-up call for business. Some business leaders have avoided acting, claiming that consumers do not follow through on their aspirations.  Fortunately, our research on consumer purchasing in the US fully supports the survey results – with sustainability-marketed products outperforming both the category and their conventional counterparts.”

René Lammers, Chief Science Officer at PepsiCo said: “Consumers are becoming more interested in the future of the planet and society – and aware of the impacts of their choices. Through our pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) transformation with sustainability at the center of our business, we’re continuing to evolve our portfolio of food and beverage products so that they are better for the planet and people. From incorporating more diverse ingredients to accelerating our reduction of added sugars and sodium, we are actively working to deliver the systemic change and inspirational brands people need and want to help make more positive choices. The 2021 Healthy & Sustainable Living study is a strong validation that pep+ reflects a new business reality and that we’re on the right path at the right time to help build a more sustainable, resilient future for us all.”

Miguel Veiga-Pestana, Head of Corporate Affairs & Chief Sustainability Officer at Reckitt said: “Now more than ever consumers are aware of the importance of healthy and sustainable living. Our purpose to protect, heal, and nurture in the relentless pursuit of a cleaner, healthier world has never been more relevant. At Reckitt we are engaging with millions of consumers each day, helping them make everyday changes that collectively have big impacts. Our aim for 2030 is to engage 2 billion people in our partnership, programmes, and campaigns to build awareness and create a positive impact on society.”

Douglas Sabo, Chief Sustainability Officer at Visa said: “As shown in the study, consumers around the world increasingly are willing to make behavior changes to support climate action and sustainable living, but they often need guidance and resources. Visa is committed to helping empower consumers to live more sustainably – and to working with our clients and partners to meet consumers’ demand.”

Cristianne Close, Global Leader Markets Practice at WWF said: “Academics, scientists, and business leaders all agree that accelerating nature loss, climate breakdown, and inequality all need integrated solutions. Responding to these crises has begun to shape a new paradigm for how business might create a better, more resilient future. This year’s research from GlobeScan confirms the scale of the opportunities and challenges for companies willing to shape a better future, especially through engaging younger generations. At WWF we actively support business to drive systemic changes that can enable consumers to make more sustainable choices.”

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About the Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights Research Program

Healthy & Sustainable Living is an annual global consumer insights research program designed to help brands understand shifting preferences and behaviors related to healthy and sustainable living. This research helps organizations learn how to engage consumers on wellness and sustainability issues and enable healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

Research Methodology Summary

This research program builds on over 20 years of GlobeScan’s public opinion research in the areas of sustainability, branding, and reputation, and is designed to help better understand the diverse mindsets of consumers that shape their barriers to (or serve enablers of) more healthy and sustainable living.

Survey sampling and data collection was achieved using best-in-class online consumer panels in each of the 31 markets and optimized to represent consumers per the latest census data for those aged 18 years and up.

Participating markets include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Thailand, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam.