Blog>What Ethical Consumption Looks Like In 2023

What Ethical Consumption Looks Like In 2023

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Amber Callender


The sustainability movement has given rise to the ethical consumer, one that takes into account the environmental and social impacts of their purchasing decisions. The growth of ethical consumerism doesn’t look to slow any time soon. According to The Future Laboratory’s Sustainability Trends Report, Lee Chambers, environmental psychologist, has predicted that as eco-anxiety increases, environmental wellbeing will become as focused on as personal wellbeing. However, amidst the cost of living crisis, ethical consumption is set to look a little different this year. Let’s find out more.

A Growing Awareness of Greenwashing

The increasing number of brands making exaggerated or false claims around their sustainability practices has fostered growing consumer distrust. Mindshare’s Reality Check 2022 Report found that 49% of consumers believe brands associating themselves with more meaningful causes are doing so for publicity purposes and almost half believe that brands are guilty of greenwashing.

But is the growing awareness of greenwashing impacting consumer behaviour? According to Shift Insight, when survey respondents were asked how they would react if a brand did not live up to their sustainable claims, 48% stated they would buy from the brand as little as possible, with 14% stating that they would not purchase from that brand again. Similarly 40% of respondents stated they would not recommend the brand to friends or family even if they liked the product or service, with 20% stating that they would not trust the brand again.

The research suggests that greenwashing has more of an impact on consumers’ perceptions of a company as opposed to their purchasing behaviour. Despite recognising unsustainable practices, typically consumers aren’t committed to boycotting a brand. This highlights the gap between consumers’ thoughts and their consumption habits.

The difficulty comes with identifying greenwashing. Research conducted by consumer rights group Euroconsumers, found that most consumers find environmental labelling confusing, with 53% of respondents unable to distinguish between true or false green claims.

So, How Can Brands Avoid Greenwashing?

  • Avoid using vague or meaningless terms like ‘green’ or ‘eco’ without providing specific information about the product’s environmental impact
  • Avoid using unnecessary symbols to suggest a product is environmentally friendly if the claims are not substantiated
  • Refrain from using environmental certifications in a misleading way, such as exaggerating the environmental benefits of a product or using a certification that does not apply

Consumers will continue to demand more transparency from brands which theoretically should prompt brands to take real action when it comes to sustainable and ethical practices.

The Fair Treatment of Workers

Fair treatment of workers will continue to play a large role in the ethical consumer’s purchasing behaviour. According to a report by Edelman on brand trust, 29% of respondents said the way in which a company treated its employees was the most important factor in deciding whether to become a loyal customer. This goes hand in hand with sustainable practices, as The Future Laboratory’s Sustainability Trends Report shows that 22% of UK citizens would associate sustainability with a brand paying workers a living wage.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is - The Cost of Living Crisis

The cost of living crisis is set to have the greatest impact on shaping the ethical consumer in 2023. Last year we took a look at how the cost of living crisis is impacting consumer views on sustainability and found that, unsurprisingly, more and more consumers are being forced to make choices based on what their budget allows as opposed to what might be the most sustainable option.

However, according to GlobalData retail lead analyst Emily Stella, the cost of living crisis may actually help to drive sustainable purchasing decisions this coming year. As consumers look to cut back, anything that appears unnecessary, wasteful or harmful to the environment, like disposable products, will be left on the shelf. Kantar conducted a survey across nine major markets looking at consumer behaviour related to sustainability and 51% of respondents reported that they are prepared to invest time and money to support companies trying to do good.

Similarly, McKinsey published a 2022 report studying how current events are shaping UK consumer behaviour. They found that companies prioritising sustainable packaging and reuse indexed highest in reasons for consumer choice within the past three months of the survey.

Price will always be a consideration, and sustainable brands positioning themselves at a premium price point will undoubtedly take a hit amidst the cost of living crisis. However, if brands can offer sustainable alternatives at an affordable price, the research suggests that, due to the increasing desire amongst consumers to make ethical purchasing decisions, they should continue to see growth.