Consumer’s interest in sustainability and ethical retailing was not sparked by Covid-19. Instead, the pandemic gave momentum to an already growing – trend, says McKinsey. During the height of the pandemic, consumers had more time to think about and educate themselves on issues such as climate change, sweatshops, water usage etc. Forrester data reveals that a third of US adults said they spent more time thinking about climate than they did before the pandemic. With more time on their hands, shoppers consumed online content on these issues and became hyperaware of their own environmental footprint.

Chriss Biggs, Global Head of Retail at Boston Consulting Group, says, “our research reveals that 90% of consumers are more concerned about sustainability than ever before”. Furthermore, consumers are holding retailers responsible for climate and humanitarian issues, asking them to take action; and this call for action is expected to grow louder in 2022.

Innova Market Insights revealed that global sustainability has already overtaken personal health as consumers’ biggest concern in its Top Ten Trends for 2022. Similarly, Deloitte found the top 5 consumer concerns this year are waste reduction, sustainable packaging, carbon footprint, ethical working conditions, and human rights. Sustainability and ethical values will be a key driver for almost a third of consumers as they seek out champion brands who are truly committed to these causes.

So, what actions have consumers already taken? Well, in 2021, 34% of consumer chose brands that have demonstrated environmentally friendly values and 30% chose brands with ethical practices. In fact, one in five consumers bought fewer new products, instead upcycling old products and buying second hand; and 85% of consumers have become ‘greener’ in their purchasing.

The younger generations, Gen Z and Millennials, are leading the shift towards sustainable and ethical shopping. 32% percent of Millennials have already changed theie shopping habits, in comparison to the 24% Gen X and 24% Baby Boomers. One of the biggest barriers for the older generations is lack of interest. Among the younger generations however, its information. Thus, with retailers providing more information on the source of their materials, production process, recycling, renewing, upcycling, the number of younger people changing their shopping habits is expect to increase exponentially, in spite of the premium prices. 50% of consumers are willing pay more for sustainable and ethical products but many lack awareness.

At least, 50% of C-suite executives of fashion and textile businesses are aware of the growing demand for sustainable and ethical brands. Businesses such as lululemon, Ikea and Urban Outfitters have launched resale initiatives; Harrods, Hurr and Rent the Runway are offering rental services; Rubelli and Mango have new ranges of eco-friendly fabrics. Thus, it can be said that retailers are reacting to the trend.

However, retailers should also take on the responsibility of educating consumers on sustainability and be transparent about the brands values. McKinsey’s Sebastan Gatzer believes consumer awareness and transparency from the brands are the key to improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.

It is imperative that retailers make sustainability a real priority and prove to their customers that their efforts are genuine. By aligning their values to their customers’ values, retailers will create emotionally engaged customers who have lasting, profitable, and strong relationship with the brand.

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