An Introduction to the Conscious Consumer

An Introduction to the Conscious Consumer

By Charlie Thompson

What is a Conscious Consumer?

A conscious consumer is someone that makes their purchasing decisions with an extra level of awareness, thought and education. 

In making informed buying choices, they often look beyond the label of a product or service, seeking to understand the company’s integrity and authenticity. 

They are looking to support companies that are tackling our social and environmental challenges through the provision of more sustainable and ethical solutions.  

These consumers demand companies to create more than profits. In the perfect marriage, they are on the hunt for companies that are conscious citizens themselves.

Conscious consumers vote with their wallets, putting money in the pockets of conscious companies in a bid to support the business ecosystems that are working to fight climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the loss of natural resources, poverty, hunger and human rights.

“They still consume, but they expect their consumption to be creative. They need to know that their bananas are Fairtrade, and they know what Fairtrade means. They need to believe that when they buy water, someone in the developing world gets the same. When they buy toilet paper, someone in a third world country gets access to sanitation.” – Peter Guest, Huffington Post UK

Cause Consciousness

The Enterprise of Consciousness reports that:

  • People are cause conscious: 89% state it is very/somewhat important to know about the values of a company (The 2008 MS&L Global Values Study).
  • People seek authentic company commitments: 66% believe it’s no longer enough for companies to make donations and that good causes should be integrated into day-to-day business (2009 Edelman goodpurpose Consumer Study).
  • People punish companies with bad reputations: 72% have avoided purchasing from companies with practices they disagree with (2009 BBMG Conscious Consumer Report).
  • People expect purpose: 86% believe that companies need to place at least an equal weight on societal interests as on business interests (2010 Edelman goodpurpose Consumer Study).
  • People are compelled by cause: 91% are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given comparable price and quality (2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study).

The Rising Trends in Green Consumerism

Neilson reports that the demand for sustainability will continue to grow and eco brands will capitalise. We can see this change in our economic and social landscapes: 

  • The Global Organic Foods & Beverages Market Study 2019-2025 predicts this industry to grow by US $226 billion by 2025, driven by a compounded growth of 14.8%.
  • The interest in veganism increased seven-fold between 2014 and 2019, according to Google trends. 
  • Sales of electric cars topped 2.1 million globally in 2019 (40% year-on-year increase) to boost the number of electric cars on the road to 7.2 million. 
  • The ‘ecofriendly’ hashtag has amassed 9.1 million posts on Instagram.

New businesses are emerging and existing businesses are evolving for practical and reputational reasons.

The Green Demographic

Some suggest that conscious consumerism is a mindset change and a “psychographic rather than a demographic shift”. However, most studies agree that the younger generations are the greenest demographics and as they move into positions of disposable income, they are at the heart of the increased demand for sustainable and ethical solutions.

Meet Millennials

Born: 1981 to 1996

Also known as: Generation Y or Gen Y

Preceded by: Generation X (1965 – 1980)

Followed by: Generation Z (1997 – 2012)

Neilson reports that 63% of socially conscious consumers are under the age of 40 and that 66% of them think that companies should support the environment.

GlobalWebIndex believes that Millennials are more likely than any other generation to pay more for eco-friendly and sustainable products. It reported that over 60% of Millennials would pay more for eco-friendly products, compared to 55% of Generation X and 46% of baby boomers (1946 – 1964).

Generation Z is said to be following the same trend as the Millennials ahead of them, with the support of sustainable goods likely to rise as the disposable income of these younger generations grows.

If Millennials are more conscious about their purchases, and Generation Z is close to follow, we can conclude a long-term change is taking place in consumer demand.

Desire vs. Reality

While 65% of Millennials want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, only 26% actually do so. 

This gap in desire and reality could be born of the fact that the average net worth of Millennials is far less than previous generations at US $8,000.

In America, Millennials average a yearly income of US $56,099 and their yearly expenditure totals US $47,112. 

The reality is that the traditional purchasing decisions of affordability, durability and quality all still play a part in conscious consumption and are not to be underestimated. 

If all things were equal, it is likely that everyone would be a conscious consumer. The challenge in achieving that lies in our economic landscape, where there are large inequalities in consumer income and in the affordability of goods.

No One-Size-Fits-All 

Pinning the demographics of the conscious consumer is just one part of the puzzle. There are other factors at play: 

Consumers respond to sustainability challenges in different ways. One person might prioritise the reduction of their meat consumption and another might prioritise the purchase of natural personal care products based on their interests, health and environment and on the level of information and influence they have received.

Consumers have different levels of understanding about how their lifestyles contribute to global sustainability. Someone that is conscious about waste might prioritise the purchase of package-free goods but may not realise the level waste involved in the fashion industry and continue purchasing fast fashion.

What motivates a conscious consumer to shop with you will be unique to your value proposition, service and solution. Getting a forensic lens on this is vital to driving the adoption of your sustainable solution. 


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