In a recent blog post, we reported that several trends are currently influencing how businesses are spending their budgets, driven largely by the combined goals of cost efficiency and social consciousness.
In this blog, we will explore the first of those trends—conscious consumerism—by describing what it is, why it is so popular, and how it benefits the overall promotional products industry.
Defining Conscious Consumerism
In this era of social activism, there is an overwhelming desire to “do the right thing”—not just among businesses, but among the general population.
Often referred to as “ethical” or “green” consumerism, conscious consumerism is a deliberate effort by consumers and businesses alike to make purchasing decisions that will have a positive social, economic, or environmental impact. For businesses, this means associating themselves with products or other companies that reflect their corporate values and support causes they themselves support.
Many of these decisions are tied to the concept of sustainably—that is, buying or producing products that are made out of sustainable, recycled or biodegradable materials. According to a presentation at the PPAI show in January, 50% of all domestic waste ends up in a landfill, while only 13% of global waste and 9% of plastic waste is recycled.
Consumers and businesses are looking to change that. According to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund, between 2016 and 2021, Google saw a 71% increase in searches for “sustainable goods.”
But these efforts are not limited to virtue-signaling Google searches—people are actually putting their money where their mouths are. A July 2020 survey by McKinsey & Company found that 57% of respondents have made demonstrable lifestyle changes with the goal of reducing their impact on the environment, driven largely by their experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. Another (older) report, this one by the Network for Business Sustainability, claims that customers are willing to pay a 10% premium to purchase socially conscious products.
The Benefits of Conscious Consumerism
Aside from the satisfaction of doing the right thing, why would businesses and consumers engage in conscious consumerism? Not surprisingly, that behavior does have many benefits—some predictable, some not.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that, by being selective about what we buy, we can significantly reduce our environmental footprint.
If the ultimate goal is to save our planet, it’s critical to acknowledge that the current rate at which humans are consuming our natural resources is simply unsustainable. By choosing to purchase (or produce) sustainable products, it’s possible to reduce our impact on the environment. If enough consumers and businesses do this, the result would be considered a tremendous victory.
Unfortunately, sustainable products represent a small portion of the overall market. Their popularity is growing, however, and given the current mood in the U.S. and Europe, that growth will continue. Like the emergence of organic foods before it, and the current ascension of battery-powered vehicles, sustainable products are establishing a foothold that should guarantee a successful future. Manufacturers especially are paying attention; always looking to grow market share, they may have no choice but to jump on the sustainable product bandwagon or risk missing out on the “next big thing.”
Sustainability Delivers Better Products and Better Value
Being more deliberate about your purchasing decisions will most likely lead you to better, higher-value products. That’s because products designed for sustainability will, presumably, be built to last. That translates into superior quality and greater value. Once the product has reached the end of its useful life, recycling leads to a new cycle of innovation and production.
Charity Begins at the Office
Charitable giving is a large part of conscious consumerism. A number of companies donate a percentage of their profits to a favored cause, whether to help the homeless, the hungry, or wounded veterans, among others. Or manufacturers, for every item they sell, will donate an identical item to an underprivileged group or community. Giving takes many forms, but it’s all a form of conscious consumerism.
Saving the Environment
Last but not least, conscious consumerism harnesses the power of performative action to effect positive change, particularly for the environment. Frequently, the simple act of going green inspires others to follow suit, resulting in a snowball effect that has an impact far beyond the original act. For instance, studies have shown that installing solar panels often inspires neighbors to install them as well. The same goes with recycling; if one person or business does it, others will do it, too. Action speaks louder than words, with a ripple effect that benefits everyone.
The Bottom Line
If recent trends have taught us anything, it’s that companies are willing to invest more—in products and services—if there is a philanthropic or environmental benefit attached. The growing popularity of green and sustainable products is also a message to manufacturers that they risk losing market share, missing out on the next innovation, or attracting new employees if they don’t adapt.
Conscious consumerism is a behavior that is catching on. Buying sustainable products is not only good for you and your customers, but for the environment as well. The money being spent is reinvested in the development of new sustainable products and practices, continuing the cycle of improvement and enhancement. And, in the end, everyone is the better for it.