According to a 2020 study, nine out of ten Australians prefer to buy ethical and sustainable products, and 85% want greater transparency from businesses. The study also found that NSW residents are the most environmentally conscious, followed by Queensland and the ACT.
Studies such as this one show that consumers are becoming more mindful of what they’re buying and who they’re buying it from, which should serve as a wake-up call for brands that need to change their practices or risk losing business to greener competitors.
Furthermore, the study found that 40% of Australians are willing to pay more if they know the products they’re buying are the result of ethical and sustainable business practices. From the panel of participants, consumers under 30 showed higher interest in sustainability than those over the age of 50. Similarly, it seems that women have a stronger preference for sustainably produced products than men.
A Shift in Values
Consumers were already becoming more concerned with sustainability before the COVID-19 pandemic with climate protests and businesses looking to capitalise on this trend by making their products appear a little more environmentally friendly.
In fact, when the pandemic hit, many worried that the momentum would be lost, giving brands enough leeway to start scaling back on their corporate social responsibility program in favour of higher profits. However, there are clear signs that the pandemic has ingrained social responsibility, sustainability and transparency even further into our cultural norms.
During the first lockdown, we started seeing “food libraries” appear on the streets and Facebook groups sharing stories of people helping each other get through difficult times. We became aware that although we were all struggling, some were worse off and needed help. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns prompted Australians to reconnect with their communities and shift from a more individualistic western mentality to one that places greater value on “mateship.”
The pandemic also forced us to confront the inequality and injustice in Australian society – especially regarding labour insecurity and exploitation in certain sectors such as healthcare, education, food production and retail. Many people have become more aware of and inspired to support social causes as a result of their increased awareness of the vulnerable and marginalised.
Another value shift resulted from people being cooped up in their houses for so long. They started yearning for nature.
Under stage four restrictions, park visits rose by 12% across Melbourne. As soon as the 5 km radius was lifted, Australians were flocking down to the coast, up the mountains and to every available campsite.
Real estate agents reported a massive increase in people looking to move away from the city due to remote work policies. This desire to reconnect with nature continues to motivate Australians in wanting to protect the environment.
This shift in values can also be seen in consumer behaviour. Throughout 2020, Google reported a rise in Australian search queries for sustainable products, and there was higher support for local farmers markets and retailers. It’s clear that conscious consumerism is steadily increasing.
Money is tighter right now, fast fashion is guilt-ridden, so retail therapy has become spending in such a way that you feel you made a modest contribution to a greener future. Australians are looking for brands that do the right thing for the planet and the people living on it, even if it means sacrificing profits. A brand’s commitment to sustainability is becoming its biggest competitive advantage.
When so many well-known companies coming under fire for failing to address poor working conditions, using environmentally harmful materials and not investing in proper waste management like waste balers and compactors, there’s plenty of incentive to be proactive rather than reactive.
We live in an age when news travels in a matter of seconds, and failing to show your commitment to sustainable business practices can result in public outrage, boycott and getting “cancelled.”
Corporate Social Responsibility Has Entered a New Era
CSR has a shady reputation. We all know that. There have been too many brands using it to greenwash problematic business practices with platitudes about caring for the environment, volunteering days as marketing strategies and donations that were far from making up for the damage they caused and the huge profits they made in the process.
Consumers are wiser now, and they want more from brands than just lip service. Doing a little less harm isn’t enough anymore. Expectations have shifted to doing more good – making a significant contribution to the world we live in.
And, as one would expect, when you vote with your dollar, companies start to listen.
Resource regeneration and restoration are essential elements of a circular economy, and they can help us overcome virtually the problems that come with a linear economy built on a “take, make, discard” ethos.
Hopefully, this will mark the beginning of a new era for CSR.
Sustainability vs Profitability
Sustainable business practices have traditionally been associated with higher expenses and reduced profitability, but thanks to technological developments, this is no longer the case. It’s extremely good news because this belief that sustainability and profitability are mutually exclusive made many brands prefer greenwashing over making real changes. But these days, we’re seeing more examples demonstrating that you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can have both.
Environmental issues are becoming more widely recognised in a variety of industries, resulting in technologies that can assist companies in combating them. They’re also getting incentivised through tax benefits and rebates.
It’s difficult for businesses to see how sustainable production can be more efficient and help them increase profits. This is due, in part, to the fact that they must radically alter their approach to cost-cutting and make high initial investments to see results later on. It also requires a willingness to defy conventional business practices by focusing on improving the overall efficiency of the system rather than reducing the cost of each part.
Companies need to maintain profitability to survive and grow. Fortunately, these days, sustainable practices result in more efficient resource use, increased output, lower costs and provide extra revenue to invest in improving product quality. There is no longer an issue of “sustainability versus profitability” because sustainability equals profitability.