The conscious consumer

February 16, 2020

In 2018, research firm Nielsen noted half of all Americans would change their consumption habits if they felt it could reduce their impact on the environment.

Labelling the shift “the year of the conscious consumer”, they noted it was a trend just beginning to take hold.

Here’s an insight into the conscious consumer and how retailers and business can embrace the trend.

Who is the conscious consumer?

The conscious consumer keep cup

Contrary to popular belief, conscious consumerism is not purely driven by a young generation with high expectations. It is a widespread consumer push for brands to be more sustainable, more ethical and more transparent in their product ingredients, sourcing and manufacturing.

Nielsen notes the trend is reflected in Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen X alike. That said, technology savvy Millennials, are far more adamant in their push.

Neilson’s research notes 83 per cent of Millennials (aged 21-34) say it is extremely important to them that companies implement programs to improve the environment, compared to 66 per cent of Gen X and 62 per cent of Baby Boomers.

What’s more:

• Millennials are twice as likely (75 per cent vs 34 per cent) than Baby Boomers to say they are definitely or probably changing their habits to reduce their impact on the environment.
• They’re also more willing to pay more for products that contain environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients (90 per cent vs 61 per cent), organic / natural ingredients (86 per cent vs 59 per cent), or products that have social responsibility claims (80 per cent vs 48 per cent).

It’s global

Conscious consumerism isn’t just limited to the US, either. A study by Australia’s Monash University found 91 per cent of all consumers want brands to use sustainable ingredients or materials, and 92 per cent believe sustainable business practices should be standard.

And in good news for retailers, it’s apparent customers are willing to pay more for these options.

Two-thirds of consumers are willing to splurge on products from a sustainable or socially conscious brand, while 70 per cent will pay more for products that don’t infringe on human rights.

“Consumers today find less joy in excessive spending, and choose to spend money on experiences rather than material goods,” Monash Business School’s lead researcher Dr Eloise Zoppos explains.

“The modern shopper is constantly searching for meaning, not only in how they live, but also how they consume.”

The value

The conscious consumer ethical production

Meanwhile, Nielsen highlighted the rising value of conscious consumerism.

In 2018, sustainable fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) commanded spending of $128.5 billion – a figure which had grown by 20 per cent since 2014. By 2021, that figure was expected to be significantly higher at $150 billion, due to a compound average growth rate (CAGR) four times larger than conventional products.

So how can retailers embrace the conscious consumerism trend?


One of the key features of ethical retail is trust, transparency and authenticity. This means offering sustainable and ethical products and manufacturing processes which resonate with the conscious consumer while clearly explaining what these products and techniques are.

It involves peeling back the veil on how products are manufactured, sourced, and sold, and illustrating how the consumer’s purchase makes a difference in the world.


Sometimes there are trends which are obvious, like the growing call to eliminate animal cruelty in fashion and the rising push for retailers to reduce their packaging, and that’s seeing some retailers willing to take a stand.

In 2017, Gucci was among them, announcing that it would ban the use of fur from 2018. It joined a growing list of retailers going fur-free including the likes of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Armani.


The conscious consumer H&M recycling

One of the biggest trends many retailers are taking on is recycling, and it’s applying across all sectors.

Global brad H&M is one retailer doing this particularly well, with a global initiative that works to prevent customers’ unwanted clothes and textiles going to landfill.

Introduced in 2013, the program sees H&M outlets accept unwanted clothes by any brand, in any condition, at any of their stores, every single day of the year.

Consumers hand their clothes in at the cash desk and receive a voucher to use towards their next purchase.

The retailer notes: “All clothes collected by H&M are either re-used, re-worn or recycled with 0 per cent going to landfill”.

The final word

These are just some of the ways retailers are catering to the conscious consumer, but each brand has the opportunity to develop and foster their own values and build a tribe of loyal customers as a result.

As Neilson notes:

“Consumer sentiment is shifting toward ‘healthy for me and healthy for the world’, and this is influencing sales of FMCG products across multiple categories. Technology will enable consumers to match the right ingredients to their needs or ailments.

“Companies will need to clearly communicate and have the data to prove how their sustainable factors help consumers.”

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