Sustainability is one of today’s biggest business challenges and opportunities.

Holding mesh shopping bag

The problems facing the planet and its global citizens have not lessened. The consumer sentiment for real change has significantly increased. Consumers’ message is loud and clear: they are tired of words lacking the backing of substantive action.

Who’s most responsible for making our world more sustainable? According to The Hartman Group’s latest report, Sustainability 2021: Environment and Society in Focus, consumers recognize the need for large-scale action and place the most responsibility for a sustainable future with entities seen as powerful enough to make a difference — large companies and governments.

There is no clear consensus regarding top-level responsibility (ranked first/second) as consumers place this onus on large companies (57%), governments (54%) and individuals (42%) in nearly equal numbers. However, large companies and government are more often ranked in second or third place in terms of responsibility, suggesting that consumers believe them to be in a better position to effect large-scale changes.

Sustainability Gains a Strong Voice at Point of Purchase

Sustainability 2021 finds that 44% of consumers say they are willing to drastically change their lifestyles to live in a more sustainable way. That number more than doubles among Core consumers (those consumers most engaged in the World of Sustainability): 93% of Core consumers say they are committed to taking different types of actions to make their lifestyles more environmentally friendly.

Purchase decisions are a key mechanism through which consumers act on their sustainability values.

About a third of consumers (32%) say their purchase decisions have the greatest impact on society, consistent with what was reported in 2019. This falls behind voting decisions (44%) but is seen as more effective than direct involvement with one’s local community (25%).

While sustainability is still not a consistent purchase consideration for most consumers, it has been steadily making its way into their product selection thought processes. More than a quarter of consumers say they always or usually base their purchases on sustainability, an increase of 11 points over the last 14 years and up 4 points just from 2019.

About the report: Consumer understanding of sustainability is growing, moving toward increasing sophistication in the links they see between a range of related issues.

Sustainability 2021: Environment and Society in Focus, part of The Hartman Group’s foundational Sustainability syndicated study series, updates long-standing data sets and provides new insights on what sustainability means to consumers today, how they incorporate it into their everyday lives and prioritize it in their purchasing, how they think about specific sustainability topics (e.g., plastics and packaging, agricultural methods, social justice), and who should address these important societal challenges and how to address them.

You can learn more about the report and order it here: Hartman Sustainability 2021