The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a year of unprecedented disruption for businesses and individuals around the world. Sustained periods of isolation and remote work have prompted seismic shifts in how consumers do business and what they look for in brands. Perhaps unexpectedly, one of the biggest side-effects of this shift is a brand new emphasis on sustainability. 

As the impact of the COVID pandemic became clearer, numerous reports have shown that the health crisis has focused the collective minds of consumers on looking after the planet. 

For instance, a 2020 global survey conducted by Accenture found that consumers have ‘dramatically evolved’ over the past year and that as much of 60% were reportedly making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the beginning of the pandemic. Furthermore, the study claimed that nine out of 10 of that percentage believed that they would continue to do so after the pandemic. 

Another study from Kantar found that since the pandemic sustainability was more of a concern for consumers than before the outbreak. Furthermore, 65% of respondents across the world told a survey by Ipsos Mori that ‘it’s important that climate change is prioritised in the economic recovery after Coronavirus.’

With an unprecedented number of consumers appearing willing to alter their lifestyle and purchasing habits after COVID-19, could we be in the midst of a permanent shift towards environmental awareness? 

Seeking Brand Value Beyond Finance

One of the biggest hurdles that stands in the way of greater sustainability in consumer products stems from recyclable materials and packaging costing more to use. However, the good news for brands looking to go green is that consumers are now willing to pay more for goods that promise a reduced environmental impact. 

eco-friendly product

(Image: Global Web Index)

The willingness to pay extra to reduce consumer carbon footprints is highest in production focused, middle-income economies, where risks of environmental disasters can feel more pertinent for inhabitants. 

Despite this, in North America, consumers are largely split about the prices they’re willing to pay for such goods – despite being receptive to the idea of making eco-friendly purchases. 

In this particular region, price can still be a driving force when it comes to making purchases – especially for older citizens who are less willing to spend more on sustainability. 

Significantly, more brands are waking up to this general trend of consumers being willing to pay more in return for knowing that they’re helping the environment. In fact, many companies are using their sustainability efforts as a means of leveraging better sales figures over the coming months and years. 

(Image: HSBC)

HSBC data shows that as much as 86% of companies expect their sales to grow over the course of the coming year due to a greater focus on sustainability. 

For perhaps the first time, it may be economically beneficial for companies to reassess the materials they use and to offer more expensive products to consumers with the reassurance that their products are environmentally friendly and responsibly sourced. 

How Industries Are Adapting to The Sustainability Boom

As more businesses are beginning to wake up to the consumer benefits of reducing their carbon footprints, we may be on the cusp of a green industrial revolution that has the potential to breathe new life into the green jobs market. In terms of agriculture alone, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that responding to the climate emergency will create 200m full-time jobs around the world by 2050. 

According to World Bank estimates, global waste will rise to 70% on current levels by 2050. When decomposing, organic material in landfills releases gas composed of around 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide along with some traces of other components. EPA data shows that landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the US – a gas that’s around 28-times more powerful than CO2 at warming the earth over the course of the next century. 

This means that waste management should be front and center in reducing the growing level of waste and discarded materials in production. The topic has become increasingly popular in the wake of the pandemic, and there have been some excellent solutions entering the market. 

Novel waste-to-energy methods like generating energy through anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis and gasification are helping to actively convert waste into new forms of power. Elsewhere, technology is also working on increasing the shelf life of produce by slowing down the ripening and rotting processes – helping to create more food for consumption that lasts much longer. 

Significantly, compostable plastic alternatives made from renewable resources with similar functionality to oil-based polymers can become a driving force in helping businesses to create consumable products that are designed to be responsibly thrown away. 

These largely compostable materials can change the way we use the products that we love. For instance, these changes can already be seen in sustainable eyeglasses companies like Pela Vision and LaBante, which make biodegradable glasses frames out of materials like bamboo to ensure that essential products can also be sustainable while carrying fresh new looks. 

The sustainability kick is also prominent for other everyday products like toothbrushes, which can also be made from highly compostable bamboo, and waste-free makeup products and materials. 

Gearing Up For a Sustainable Future

In light of the changing consumer demands, the post-pandemic economy may have the drive it needs to be steered in a way that protects both the environment and the people who populate it from the kind of destruction that may contribute to the spread of new diseases along with the acceleration of the climate disaster itself. 

For example, in the Netherlands, 170 academics have created a five-point manifesto for economic change that includes investment in critical public sector areas, clean energy, education and health while scaling back the use of oil, gas, mining and advertising sectors alongside the cancellation of debt. 

Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s becoming clear that consumers don’t want to return to pre-pandemic conditions as they were. In fact, just 9% of Britons wanted to return to their lives prior to COVID. This is a significant indicator that change would be welcomed by many and that using the pandemic as a chance for businesses to reset their processes and work on developing more sustainable products could be mutually beneficial for companies and the environment as a whole.