Consumers and Sustainability: How Environmental Concerns Are Changing Shopping Habits

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The environmental concerns we’re facing today require new ways of thinking and acting in our consumer and business lifestyles. Organisations and climate experts are urging us to make drastic changes, and many are listening and changing their shopping habits. In fact, in a survey conducted by Nielson in 2017, 81% of global respondents felt strongly that companies should help improve the environment. It’s no surprise there’s been a huge rise in consumer demand for sustainable products in small and large markets; many expect companies to care about the environment, not just supply sustainable consumer products.

Being an environmentally conscious business is imperative, not only to help our environment, but also to adhere to changing consumer behaviour to sustainability and shopping habits. There are many different environmental concerns that affect many areas of our planet, all because of our habits and the resources we use. Whilst one person can’t change everything, if everyone makes some changes, a huge difference will be made. Some climate concerns include:

  • Air, water, and land pollution
  • Climate change, global warming, and increased carbon footprints
  • Deforestation
  • Natural resource depletion
  • Household and industrial waste
  • Natural disasters and loss of endangered species

Many are affected by these issues, so there is a conscious effort to make changes, even if it’s the basic three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

save planet earth

In many ways, it’s down to businesses to ensure they’re doing their part to be more sustainable. In a consumer driven environment, many users don’t always think about the impact they have every time they buy a plastic bag or a non-recyclable item.

Businesses should be the driving force encouraging change. For those consumers already conscious about sustainability, seeing business thinking consciously will encourage them to purchase more from you. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five ways businesses can help the environment.

What Are Five Ways to Help the Environment?

There are so many different ways for your business to become more conscious about your impact on the environment. To start you off, we’ve compiled a list of five ways to get you going:

  1. Recycling
    Think smart with your recycling. Try upcycling furniture or shredding old paper to be used as packaging, and ensure there’s always a recycling bin on your premises for items you can’t reuse. Recycle anything you can, even your electronics. E-waste is a great source of secondary raw material. In fact, did you know that in the U.S, only 27% of E-waste is recycled every year?
  2. Packaging and Distribution
    Use recycled and environmentally friendly packaging; why not reuse packaging you’ve received before? Determine if you can reduce the amount of packaging for items that won’t break. Also think about ways you can cut down on your carbon footprint when distributing – incorporate green vehicles or send out items in bulk to reduce the number of vehicles being used.
  3. Reduce Your Energy Footprint
    According to the British government, almost a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions come from businesses. Switch to energy saving lightbulbs and ensure your office equipment is energy efficient and turned off completely when not in use. If possible, opt for meetings with clients by meeting on platforms such as Skype and GoToMeeting rather than travelling all the time.
  4. Uploading to The Cloud
    Using cloud-based applications from companies such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft means you’ll have no need to physically store any files or purchase any server or external hardware equipment. This feature also allows employees to share and access information remotely, reducing travel and encouraging remote working, thus reducing any need for printing copies.
  5. Become a Purpose-Led Brand
    Consumers want to buy from companies and work for those they see as green, and connect to those brands and feel that they’ve contributed to something. Look for a charity or cause to connect with, find your brand connection and purpose to help, and make an impact that will benefit you, the charity, and the user.

Purpose-Led Brands

As mentioned above, consumers want to buy from companies that are green and helping sustainable causes—they support businesses that align with their ideals. Changing shopping habits has increased the demand to be a brand with a strong purpose; it creates loyalty and connections with consumers and engages audiences more by supporting a charity or cause. A couple of examples of purpose-led brands are The Body Shop and Toms.

The Body Shop

This company is well known for helping many charities and being environmentally conscious. From protecting and re-wilding forests for endangered species and, to reducing environmental footprints and empowering women, The Body Shop never stops trying to make a difference. They are continuously reviewing sustainable packaging options for all materials used, not just packaging, in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.

Toms

This shoe and sunglasses brand is continuously doing their part for worthy causes. Through purchases, Toms provide brand new made-to-order shoes, safe water, glasses, surgery and medical treatment for sight, and safer birth services to people in need. They work with more than 100 giving partners to provide products and services for these people in need, connecting and helping issues around the world.

Alongside purpose-led branding, many businesses are adhering to other sustainable trends in retail. A huge trend amongst many brands is thinking about green packaging alternatives. Businesses need to transport products efficiently and protect them from any damage. Bags are a huge part of shopping culture, but single-use carriers can be cut out to make way for degradable and biodegradable alternatives.

Another trend is cutting down on paper by installing e-receipt alternatives. This strategy is great for reducing the amount of paper that is wasted, and customers won’t have to keep track of receipts and lose them as they’ll all be on email. A bonus of this feature is that retailers get a chance to ask users if they want to opt in to email offers and information, thus building a data structure and analysing their customers to improve services and the entire experience.

With these trends in full swing in retail, are there any environmental effects of eCommerce? The answer is questionable. Whilst shopping online greatly reduces customer carbon footprint, there are other factors to consider. For example, there is packaging and delivery vans to note, there can also be associative physical trips by the consumer like click-and-collect, returns, and pickups. As long as the online process remains digital and users are avoiding same-day delivery, eCommerce can come out as eco-friendlier than going to a brick-and-mortar store.

What Will Be the Next Innovation?

There is no limit to innovating more sustainable ways to design, create, and sell products. Technology is continuing to evolve, both in the manufacturing and consumer environment, so it’s only natural for there to be further developments in benefitting the ecosystem.

Innovations will also include fully utilising resources that’ll stop a lot of plastic usage. Many often ask, what is the most sustainable material? Bamboo, cork, and recycled cotton are amongst the most ecological. Whilst these materials are already in use as alternative resources, we still have a long way to go to change the ways we manufacture products. Businesses also need to ensure they continue to tell the truth when making steps towards sustainable practices. Always look to improve product production and marketing with realistic goals.

Consumers must be conscious about the effects on the planet and drive change for businesses and personal lives. It can start with a few simple changes, but can quickly escalate into making an overall change that businesses have to cater for. Let’s take a look at some ways to be sustainable.

How Can Consumers Be Environmentally Friendly?

There are many ways consumers can be environmentally friendly. With the help of businesses making changes as well as consumers, it’s becoming easier to be more conscious about sustainability and use products better for the environment. If you’re stuck for some ideas to be more environmentally friendly, here are some ideas:

  • Reduce packaging – Bring your own bags and avoid overly packaged products. Also try buying in bulk to reduce the frequency of travel.
  • Use alternative bags to plastic ones Many stores offer alternatives to plastic bags. Invest in a few as they can hold more and are sturdier, lasting longer than your plastic bags!
  • Choose cloth over paper – Instead of using lots of paper towels for cleaning, why not rip up an old shirt or towel to clean? Also, swap over to food wraps like beeswax; they are reusable and reduce waste.
  • Use sustainably-sourced food – Choose organic food and certified foods, plus use processed foods from companies that use certified sustainable palm oil, or none at all.
  • Opt for biodegradable cleaning products – Biodegradable products will have fewer negative impacts on the environment, especially on our soil and water.
  • Cut down on household energy – Unplug appliances that aren’t in use, wash all possible clothes on cold, and use a drying rack or clothesline to air to air them out. You can also switch your lightbulbs to energy saving ones.
  • Use zero-waste refill stores – Find your local refill store and take advantage of all the goods it has to offer! Grab jars and pots and fill up on items such as pasta, pulses, nuts, cereals, spices, hair and cleaning products, you name it!

zero-waste refill stores

Takeaway

Innovation in technology and the way our planet is evolving are catalysts for changing shopper habits to be more sustainable. Shopping is at the centre of our consumer world, and our society revolves around it. If users are focussing on sustainable alternatives, businesses must move to adhere to customer needs and change their own outlook. The more sustainably driven we are, the more we help the world and keep a good customer base as well. Here is a recap of some ways to be more sustainable, both as a business and as a consumer:

  • Reduce your energy footprint by using energy saving light bulbs and turning off appliances when not in use
  • Be more conscious about packaging and use reusable bags
  • Recycle and reuse as much as possible, and always opt for recyclable items over single-use
  • Become a purpose-led brand, get users involved, drive sales, and help a good cause
  • Find more sustainable ways of producing products and shipping them
  • Use products that are made from eco-friendly degradable or biodegradable materials
  • Eat organic and sustainably sourced foods, and don’t forget to utilise your local zero-waste store

Best of luck!

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