Cost crisis: Are businesses backtracking on sustainability, just as they need to step up?
One-third of British business owners are de-prioritising sustainability amid rising energy and commodity costs, a new survey has found. But this same research found that consumer demand for sustainable business is not wavering.
Conducted by B Corp certified recipe box service Gousto, the research polled 250 businesspeople in the UK across a range of sectors. Also surveyed were 2,015 members of the general population over the age of 18, to take a view of consumer attitudes.
Of the business owners, one-third stated that environmental sustainability is not currently a priority for them. Less than one-fifth (17%) stated that a priority focus for the near term will be maintaining their environmental credentials.
Gousto admits that this is understandable in the current economic circumstances. Separate research published last month revealed that 80% of hospitality and leisure firms may have to cut hours or jobs within 12 months, with 25% fearing closure within this timeframe. Some SMEs, the Huffington Post reports, have already closed citing high energy costs as the nail in the coffin.
Nonetheless, Gousto found that most of the general public want businesses to continue prioritising environmental action – pointing to an opportunity to couple affordability and profitability with sustainability.
Almost eight in ten (78%) people polled by Gousto are concerned about the impact the cost crisis will have environmentally, given the potential for policymakers and businesses to backtrack.
Six in ten of the people surveyed said they would prefer businesses to do more to offer sustainable options at this moment in time. Half said they are keen to make “significant” changes to their lifestyle in a bid to cut their environmental impact – particularly if this results in cost savings.
The survey has been published to mark Gousto’s launch of a new ‘Carbon-Cutting Cuisine’ menu, with only meals classed as ‘low’ or ‘very low’ in terms of lifecycle emissions. Gousto has worked with Foodsteps to measure and convey the lifecycle emissions of each meal, gaining emissions reductions by reducing meat and dairy and using seasonal produce.
Mintel’s global look
Another similar piece of research, with a global reach, has been published this week by Mintel following extensive online surveys of 1,000 people globally. The firm’s Sustainability Barometer looks at how concerned consumers in 16 key markets are with environmental sustainability and which issues they would like businesses to prioritise.
Mintel found that consumers’ top three environmental issues, in terms of concern level, remained unchanged from 2021. They were climate change, air quality and plastic pollution. Climate concern, however, had significantly increased. It was named as a top-three concern by 46% of people, up from 39% of people in 2021.
For most people, these concerns were driven by real-life experience rather than simply seeing issues covered in the news, or by the private or public sectors. 58% of those surveyed stated that they have seen more extreme weather in the country where they live, prompting an increased desire for environmental protection.
Mintel’s senior trends consultant Richard Cope said the findings “point towards the emergence of a more informed and hardened global consumer”, with increasing energy and food costs, and stories of poor water management, bringing home the connection between the economy and the natural environment.
In this context, Cope added, consumers are less likely to fall for greenwashing. They are being subjected to additional disclosure requirements on matters such as their emissions and climate risk plans, which will help the general public to assess their overarching marketing campaigns. Activism, including digital and in-person campaigns, is also bringing increased consumer awareness to instances of greenwashing, in Cope’s opinion.
Consumers will also, Cope said, be looking for businesses to offer services which can cut costs and environmental impact. He stated: “Looking ahead to 2023, expect to see resource conservation ascend further up the agenda and the use of economising technology refurbishers and urban peer access sharing economies to grow. For consumers, the connections between saving the environment, its resources and their money will strengthen.”
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