The global trend seems to be heading towards consuming environmentally friendly products, and companies have understood this.
The trend is not new. During the pandemic, you will surely remember the viral images of the canals of Venice that looked transparent without human presence. This changed the role of human being in nature at a time of crisis when the world questioned sustainability. However, the pandemic brought it back to the top of the agenda, consumers and companies understood the message, so sustainability is a current issue.
The Consumer: Fundamental in the Sustainability Chain
Sustainability is not something new; it has been with us for many years. However, it is increasingly an issue that occupies the first place on the global agenda. The fundamental pillar of sustainability, in market terms, is the consumer. They are the one who dictates the trend; of course, they can be influenced, but their buying patterns are crucial for companies. Consumers are more aware of the impact of their purchases, and their consumption patterns have been oriented towards seeking sustainable products, although this also implies higher costs for their pocket.
The research titled “The Global Sustainability Study 2021,” conducted in 17 countries with more than 10,000 people, showed that consumers consider themselves more sustainable than in the past. According to data from Business Wire, this interest increased among Millennials by 32%, compared to 24% of Baby Boomers and Generation X. Millennials claim to opt for sustainable products over non-sustainable ones if they are available. In addition, in general terms, the perception of the importance of sustainability can vary from one industry to another, highlighting those that have a direct impact on the environment, such as energy. Europe is an example. Amid the war between Russia and Ukraine, Europeans have had to rethink their consumption, production, costs, and sustainability around energy.
COVID-19, a Change Agent in Consumption Patterns
The pandemic allowed consumers to rethink their role in the world and their impact on the environment. People took advantage of confinement to do physical activity and improve their eating habits. It is not uncommon. According to the New York Times, one of the industries that grew the most was online sales and logistics, with Amazon alone increasing its sales by 44% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2020.
The consumer did not care much about sustainability, the impact of logistics chains, transport, packaging, and waste produced. People avoided physical contact, so online shopping represented the best option. According to JP Morgan, the most consumed products were hygiene products against cosmetics, whose sales fell.
Sustainability was reduced to the consumption of organic products to improve eating habits and support sectors such as agriculture and small food producers that directly impacted the economic crisis generated by the pandemic.
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Sustainability as a Business
Sustainability is linked to sustainable development, that is, to the generation of well-being and wealth without compromising the natural resources of other ages and avoiding the accelerated production of polluting waste, according to the Network for Business Sustainability. By itself, no company can be sustainable. It requires collaborating with others to generate a circular economy, that is, interacting with other companies to make the most of resources, either by recycling waste to use it as raw material or by developing joint initiatives that will have a real impact. With the trend of consumers in their favor, many companies have become interested in becoming sustainable; the problem is that it implies a cost that is not easy to absorb, so it is important to remember that sustainability must be profitable to function.
One of the traps of sustainability is that, in the end, it isn’t. An example could be electric cars that, although they no longer pollute in the emission of greenhouse gases, do so when charged with electricity generated by unsustainable means or when disposing of highly polluting batteries. The same happens with apparently sustainable products that still use plastics in their packaging and organic products that have left a high carbon footprint in their transport logistics. In general, the consumption of food that may seem sustainable consumes forests and millions of liters of water, such as meat and avocado. Companies must carefully design their strategy to be sustainable in all areas; the intention is not enough.