But I am afraid my discussion has been perhaps necessarily abstract. For this post I want to try to weave the ideas considered in those two posts around a very precise and concrete occurrence that is helping to reshape the way in which individuals perceive and thus understand the reality around them and thus reinforce the connection between object, meaning, action and meaning framework. The object of a recent study: GlobeScan, SustainAbility, and BBMG. Regeneration Roadmap--Re-Thinking Consumption: Consumers and The Future of Sustainability (Nov. 2012) (an in-depth online survey of consumer attitudes, motivations and behaviors relating to sustainable consumption among 6,224 respondents across six major international markets conducted in September and October 2012).
On the eve of the holiday shopping season, a new study by The Regeneration Roadmap - a joint project by GlobeScan, SustainAbility, and BBMG - finds that consumers are rethinking consumption with sustainability in mind. According to The Regeneration Consumer Study, two-thirds of consumers in six countries say that “as a society, we need to consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations” (66%), and that they feel “a sense of responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society” (65%). The findings are based on an online survey of 6,224 consumers across Brazil, China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States conducted in September and October 2012.
The authors point to a number of key findings:
• Rethinking Consumption: Consuming Less. Consuming Better. Nearly two-thirds of respondents across six markets (66%) say that “as a society, we need to consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations,” and 65% say they feel “a sense of responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society.”
• New Demands and Opportunities in Emerging Markets. Consumers in developing markets (Brazil, China, India) are more than twice as likely as their counterparts in developed markets (Germany, United Kingdom, United States) to report that they purchase products because of environmental and social benefits (51% to 22%), are willing to pay more for sustainable products (60% to 26%) and encourage others to buy from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible (70% to 34%).
• Perceptions of Price, Performance and Credibility Critical to Driving Sustainable Consumption. A majority of consumers globally agree or strongly agree that they would “purchase more products that are environmentally and socially responsible” if they “performed as well as, or better than, products they usually buy” (75%), “it didn’t cost more” (70%), and “companies’ health and environmental claims were more believable” (64%).
• Sharing Responsibility for a Shared Future. Three in four respondents globally say that government (76%), businesses (74%) and consumers (74%) should be very or extremely responsible for “working to improve the environment and society for future generations,” with two-thirds of respondents globally (65%) saying they personally “feel a sense of responsibility to society.”
• Requiring Action: Top Issues for Companies to Address Include Water, Health, Fairness and Jobs. Nine in 10 consumers globally (92%) say it is very or extremely important for companies to address “safe drinking water” as part of their products, services or operations, followed by health care (87%), fair wages and safe working conditions (87%), jobs and economic opportunity (86%) and waste reduction (86%).
• Collaboration and Participation: Being Part of the Solution. Two-thirds of consumers globally (67%) are “interested in sharing their ideas, opinions and experiences with companies to help them develop better products or create new solutions,” while seven in ten consumers globally (72%) “believe in voting and advocating for issues important
• The Dynamics of Happiness: Balancing Relationships, Time and Passions with Income and Material Possessions. While consumers across all markets overwhelmingly say “friends and family are the most important thing in life” (85%), consumers in developing
markets are more than twice as likely as those in developed markets to prioritize “time with people and projects I care about” over income (62% to 28%, respectively). Conversely, consumers in developing markets are also more than twice as likely to say “having a lot of material possessions is important to my happiness,” (49% to 23%, respectively).
• Consumer Segmentation: From Advocates to Indifferents. Advanced statistical modeling reveals four consumer segments on the sustainability spectrum, from highly committed Advocates (14%) to style and social status-seeking Aspirationals (37%), to price and performance-minded Practicals (34%) and less engaged Indifferents (16%), providing a rich understanding of consumer values, motivations and behaviors as well as insights and opportunities for engagement and action.
• Aspirationals Offer Key to Sustainable Consumption. Importantly, the largest consumer segment, the Aspirationals, is seeking both sustainability and consumption. They are looking for brands to provide solutions that both improve their lives and serve the larger society. And, because they are trendsetters in emerging markets like China and India, we believe business has the opportunity to shape a new consumerism by meeting their aspirations and desires with more sustainable products and lifestyle choices.
• Implications and Opportunities for Action. Finally, building on our consumer segmentation analysis, the concluding section of the study explores the tension between material possessions and social and environmental progress – a dynamic that we believe
provides the greatest opportunity for companies to advance sustainable consumption and create positive social impact through their practices. We outline five implications and action steps to advance a more sustainable economy, including opportunities for product innovation, transparent communication, social networking and consumer collaboration. (Regeneration Roadmap--Re-Thinking Consumption: Consumers and The Future of Sustainability (Nov. 2012)pp. 6-7).
Consumers across all six markets look to certification seals or labels on product packaging (40%) as the most trusted source of information about whether a product is environmentally and socially responsible, followed by media reports (31%), consumer reviews and ratings (28%), friends, family or coworkers (27%) and government information and reports (27%). Certifications are ranked highest by consumers in developed countries (43%), while those in developing markets list media reports (37%) as their most trusted source. (Regeneration Roadmap--Re-Thinking Consumption: Consumers and The Future of Sustainability (Nov. 2012) pp. 17).
Consumers in developing markets are four times as likely to trust “social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn” as consumers in developed markets (22% to 5% respectively). Similarly, consumers in developing markets are twice as likely to trust “CSR Reports” than their counterparts in developed markets (20% to 9%). By contrast, consumers in developed markets are twice as likely to turn to “endorsements by organizations you trust” (29% to 15%). (Regeneration Roadmap--Re-Thinking Consumption: Consumers and The Future of Sustainability (Nov. 2012) pp. 17).
Interestingly, brand-associated communities may be an emerging motivation for sustainable purchases, with more than half (54%) of consumers in developing markets saying they agree or strongly agree that they would purchase more green products if “it connected them to a community of peers who share their values and priorities,” compared to 42% of global respondents and 31% of respondents in developed markets saying so. (Regeneration Roadmap--Re-Thinking Consumption: Consumers and The Future of Sustainability (Nov. 2012) pp. 27).
Across all markets, there’s widespread belief in individualism, with more than three-fourths of respondents (78%) saying “that individuals should be responsible for taking care of themselves and not rely on the government to do so.”
This belief does not undermine a collective sense of responsibility, however, as a majority of respondents globally (65%) say they “feel a sense of responsibility to society,” with consumers in developing markets being much more likely to say so than their peers in developed markets (81% to 50%, respectively). (Regeneration Roadmap--Re-Thinking Consumption: Consumers and The Future of Sustainability (Nov. 2012) pp. 35).
Unleash the Power of Tribes
Consumers may need stuff, but what they really want is to connect: to each other and to the brands that matter to them. More than eight in ten consumers prize friends and family as the most important thing in life and they are turning to their social networks as well as consumer reviews to discover, choose and share brands.
Similarly, more than half of Aspirational consumers would buy more sustainable products if it connected them to a community of peers that shares their values, perhaps uniting their desire for social status, connections to others and the chance to make a difference together.
Every imaginable product category enjoys its niche community of passionate enthusiasts, and brands can leverage the power of tribes by connecting the like-minded, championing their ideas and extending their voice to extend their reach and impact. (Regeneration Roadmap--Re-Thinking Consumption: Consumers and The Future of Sustainability (Nov. 2012) pp. 50).