Survey: Cost-of-living crisis to set to lower consumer appetite for sustainable products

Conducted by Accenture, the survey polled 2,006 people in August. The results have been published today (4 November) along with Accenture’s Carbon Consumption Index (CCI) – an assessment of the consumption-related emissions of the average UK home. Embodied emissions of products are accounted for in the CCI.

The CCI reveals that the average emissions related with the lifestyle of a UK home were just 1% higher in 2021 than in 2022, at 317kg. This was despite household expenditure increasing by more than 15%. In other words, homes were increasingly choosing lower-carbon goods and services and may well have been maintaining habits from the pandemic such as shopping and travelling less.

But two-fifths of UK household emissions in 2021 could be attributed to housing, fuel and power. Because emissions from these categories dropped year-on-year, Accenture believes that many people have invested in – or made behaviour changes to bring about – home energy efficiency. People may have also chosen more fuel-efficient vehicles, electric models or active transport.

With fuel and energy costs high, many Brits are either striving to use less petrol and energy or being forced to do so. The Food Foundation stated last month that one-fifth of homes have already made choices between using energy or purchasing food this year. Separately, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that 45% of Brits have cut back on car journeys.

This may bring about a drop in emissions, but, as has been stated elsewhere, there will be social and economic harms in terms of living standards falling. This is not good news for sustainability in broad and long-term terms.

Accenture’s research shines a light on likely changes in consumption habits among those who, in the past, were able to factor in environmental sustainability when making purchases. 61% of those surveyed agreed that rising energy prices will negatively impact their efforts to be more sustainable.

Just 5% of people said that, in the coming 12 months, they will be likely to prioritise environmental impact over price when choosing products and services. Half of those surveyed said they were more likely to prioritise price than before, even at the expense of environmental credentials.

Accenture’s sustainability strategy lead for the UK and Ireland, Lauren Ing, said that while 2021’s 1% year-on-year increase “may be less than expected”, now is the time for reductions – not increases.

She said: “It is more important than ever for businesses to focus on developing sustainable alternatives that are cost-effective, requiring more innovative products and services to drive adoption.”

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