Key Insights into Consumer Behaviour for 2022: Sustainability and Ethics


Multiple studies and surveys conducted during the past year are demonstrating a shift towards sustainable and ethical consumerism. Sustainable and ethical products and services are one of the major consumer behaviour trends for businesses to take into account. Even though many may be well aware of the shifting demands, there are some key insights that are useful play into to optimally capitalise on the sustainable and ethical markets.

The argument that selling sustainable and/or ethical products and services is not profitable is no longer true. Given the obvious demand for sustainable and ethical products,  the future of business will be sustainable.

Ethical Shunning

One of the main findings suggests that consumers are increasingly pressuring brands into becoming sustainable and/or ethical by withholding their money. Effectively, consumers are boycotting brands due environmental or social concerns. Within the UK market, the CO-OP Ethical Consumerism Report 2021 indicates that this ‘ethical shunning’ has risen to almost four billion pounds, which is an increase of 18% in comparison to 2020. This trend is confirmed by a recent study conducted by Deloitte, which shows that 1 in 3 of British consumers stopped purchasing from certain brands citing ethical or sustainability concerns.

Consumer Priorities

The UK market for sustainable and ethical products is currently 122 billion pounds (source). This means that within the last 10 years, the market has more than doubled in value. However, or consumers, there are certain aspects of sustainability and ethics that are higher on the agenda than others. According to the Deloitte study, limiting the use of single use plastics is the most important goal for consumers. Other important considerations include the buying of more seasonable produce, buying more locally produced goods, and reducing air travel.

Moreover, the current consumer interest in buying more sustainable and ethical products is mainly focused on essential products, which are used on a daily basis. Consumers are less interested in purchasing sustainably or ethically when it comes to major purchases, tobacco and alcohol, or nights out. For grocery shopping in particular, a brand’s waste reduction potential and sustainable packaging are the most important sustainable factors for consumers. When it comes to fashion and footwear, ethical working practices and human rights issues are considered as well.

Another visible development is that businesses which already hold certain sustainable or ethical certifications (e.g. Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, or RSPCA Freedom Assured), have all risen in value during the past year.

Consumer-indicated shortcomings

One of the main struggles of sustainable and ethical consumerism indicated across studies is a lack of clear information. Receiving more information regarding the sustainability of products is important to consumers. A lack of access to information is stopping consumers from making ethical and sustainable purchase decisions. In the Deloitte study, 15% of respondents indicated that they do not have sufficient information make better decisions, even though they would be interested in purchasing sustainable and ethical products. Clearly, we need to do more to help consumers to make informed decisions. The main issues indicated where there is an information-gap include how to dispose and recycle items, how products are sourced, and how to renew or repair a damaged item. Finally, 60% of British consumers have indicated to be interested in a service that would allow them to verify how ethical a product or service is.

Overall, it is a worthwhile strategy for brands to invest in a sustainable and ethical strategy. Especially when taking into consideration the trends set out above, brands are able to play into consumer demand and create a profitable, sustainable business.