Sustainability Wooden cubes

The definition of “sustainability” has expanded exponentially in recent years. A term that once simply signified humans’ use of natural resources to support both present and future generations is now evolving into a much more nuanced global challenge. The Hartman Group’s Sustainability & Transparency 2023 study will analyze how consumers navigate their environmental and social values along their unique sustainability journeys, both today and in the future.

From broad challenges like climate change or natural resource conservation to more narrowly focused and tangible ones such as plastic waste or responsible farming methods, findings from our 2021 Sustainability study highlighted that consumers were becoming increasingly aware of the issues surrounding this dynamic topic. However, their understanding of these various components and their mutual relationships was still forming.

Several key themes from the 2021 report point to the evolving meaning and application of sustainability practices:

The realities of climate change and a global pandemic have drawn attention to the connection between individuals, communities and the environment.

Consumers have been exposed to a steady stream of news about sustainability and health-related topics in recent years, accelerating their concern. In 2021, Gen Z and Millennials were especially likely to buy more sustainable products compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. In application, consumer concerns around sustainability often translate to purchasing behaviors that are most closely aligned with their lifestyle, such as supporting local businesses, buying in bulk and composting.

Many consumers are developing a more sophisticated understanding of sustainability, but environmental practices are still the primary definition for many.

Despite growing concerns about the environment and broader social issues, consumers continue to define sustainability primarily in terms of general ideas like environmental friendliness (47%) or the most common practices such as recycling, reusing and reducing waste (46%). Just 10% of consumers make an explicit connection between sustainability and social justice — most see this as an important yet separate issue from the more environmentally focused areas they tend to directly associate with the term sustainability.

Consumers also see limits on how much they can affect change on their own, and they want companies to take the lead in addressing these large-scale challenges.

In fact, more than 3 in 4 consumers believe that companies should address environmental issues, and nearly 9 in 10 say they should address social issues. Consumers feel that large companies specifically bear responsibility for creating problems and thus have the best ability to address them. Among actions companies should take to help address important issues, consumers point first to those most visible to them: packaging and employment.

How will consumers define sustainability in 2023 and beyond?

We continue to see changes in the environmental landscape, broader social issues and the connection between the two. Many companies and brands have intensified their focus on ESG and sustainability in the broadest sense. So, how have consumers’ attitudes and beliefs around these dynamic topics shifted? Building on decades of prior findings from our foundational Sustainability syndicated series, Sustainability & Transparency 2023 will provide an update on the trends noted above while also examining new considerations that have become important to consumers.

Key topics will include but are not limited to:

  • Cultural and lifestyle shifts that drive the sustainability attitudes and behaviors of today’s consumers
  • How different consumers define sustainability and how these differences map to The Hartman Group’s proprietary World Model of engagement in sustainability
  • Prioritization of sustainability issues and consumers’ expectations of who is responsible to drive progress on these issues
  • What choices consumers are currently making in their personal lives to address their most pressing sustainability concerns and how this will shift going forward
  • How specific topics fit into the broader picture of sustainability and how they affect consumer behaviors, including purchase choices: climate change, social justice, worker welfare, packaging, upcycling, shopping, third-party certifications and more.

You can learn more about the Sustainability 2023 study by downloading the overview and order form here. Special pricing expires June 30, 2023.