Sustainability in Retail: What Sustainable Initiatives Do You Think Consumers Value?

With nearly half of retailers implementing sustainability initiatives in the next two years to meet consumer demand for sustainable products, what sustainable initiatives do consumers really value?

Currently, we are witnessing fashion brands, and retailers vying to become sustainable. The main reason for this change is the ever-evolving conscious consumer. To successfully engage them brands and retailers need to understand what sustainable initiatives are important to their current and future customer base.

Greenpeace Milan fashion week AW2014

Giving it to us straight is pioneer of the product decision platform for retail, MakerSights. They provide a trusted digital feedback loop between the market and the makers, bridging the gap between what brands think consumers want and what consumers value. Accurately predicting which styles will be winners and losers and eliminating risk at all product development stages, most recently MakerSights focused on sustainability in retail and product creation.

When It Comes To Flexing Their Purchasing Power

MakerSights found that 73% of consumers prefer to purchase from environmentally friendly brands. They also discovered that 14.5% of Consumers prefer not to buy from environmentally friendly brands. On this, they stated: “When consumers think about sustainable apparel, they value the materials above all else. Most important to consumers are recycled materials, followed up by sustainable materials and ethically-sourced materials. Consumers view Low-emissions transportation, clothing buy-back programs, and vegan materials as the least important sustainable initiatives.”

The Silent Generation is the least likely to be willing to spend more money on sustainable apparel.”

Everyone knows money talks, so when it comes to spending MakerSights found that GenZ is 112% more likely than the Silent Generation to value the importance of clothing buy-back programs. They explained: “The Silent Generation is the least likely to be willing to spend more money on sustainable apparel with 35% saying they would not pay any more than a similar non-sustainable item”. Adding: “65% of the Silent Generation were willing to pay at least 10% more, but none of them was willing to pay more than 50%”.

It was interesting to find out that GenX was willing to spend the most on sustainability with 10% saying that they would pay 50% or more increase for sustainable products. Millennials followed closely behind at 8% and GenZ at 6% saying they would spend a lot more on sustainable goods. The Baby Boomers are willing to pay 10% more for their apparel to be sustainable with 71% agreeing they would spend at least a modest amount more. Similar to the Silent Generation, nearly 30% of the Baby Boomers say they will not spend another penny on sustainability. 

Image Credit: MakerInsights

GenZ is most willing to pay a moderate uptick for sustainable apparel. 36% of GenZ respondents agreed they would spend at least 25% more for their products to be sustainable. Only 13% of Millennials wouldn’t pay any more for sustainable products. Most agree they will spend more on sustainable products with 52% saying it should be around 10% more.

Identifying the Real From The Green Wash

I was excited to find out that the majority of consumers prefer their clothes to be made of recycled materials that have been formerly used for other purposes. Other preferences, in order of most important first, included sustainable materials grown or raised using less water, chemicals, or waste. Ethically-sourced materials that respect indigenous people and cultures while providing acceptable wages. Operations powered by renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources. Sustainable manufacturing that takes into account water usage, waste, emissions. Corporate Social Responsibility that will be driven by self-regulated guidelines for how a company will act. Lastly, low-emissions transportation, clothing buy-back programs and vegan materials not produced from any animals.

Image credit: nielsen.com

If we were to look at numbers, the research found that consumers are willing to spend more for sustainable apparel, but not much more. 53.5% of consumers will spend 10% more on their apparel to be sustainable. 27% of consumers are willing to pay more than a 25% increase in their products to be sustainable. Only 6.3% of consumers are willing to pay a significant premium for sustainable goods at over 50% increase. These numbers are encouraging. It shows that if fashion businesses invest in becoming more sustainable could, in theory, increase their appeal to consumers.

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When it comes to consumers knowing which brands are sustainable, one company came up on top; it was Patagonia. MakerSights have found it to be the number one brand that consumers identify as being sustainable. Consumers also identified footwear brands like Nike and adidas as being leaders in sustainability. Additional brands frequently mentioned included Everlane, Reformation, Rothy’s Alternative Apparel, Good and People Tree. It is also worth noting that within the beauty category the brands thought of as the most sustainable included Love, Beauty & Planet, Burt’s bees, L’Oréal, Lush, Simple and Honest, Sephora, and Alima Pure.

Back in 2011 Patagonia launched its ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign, which was all about buying less rather than more.

Exploring by generation, the silent, the baby boomer, GenX, millennial and GenZ consumer was included in their research. MakerSights found that the majority of the generations agreed that making clothes using recycled materials to be the most critical sustainability initiative, except GenZ. They ethical-sourcing above all else in importance in their garment’s materials. GenZ values ethical-sourcing 126% more than the Silent Generation.

“the majority of the generations agreed that making clothes using recycled materials to be the most critical sustainability initiative.”

MakerSights researchers said: “The Silent Generation being 66% more likely than GenZ to rank recycled materials as being the most important sustainable initiative”. Adding: “From GenZ up, each generation becomes progressively more likely to say recycled materials are of utmost importance. Baby boomers and GenX are nearly neck and neck in their support for recycled materials with baby boomers 5% more likely than GenX to rank it most important.”

Zooming Out in Order to Zoom In on What Matters

I found it quite interesting that all generations agreed that the least essential sustainability initiative is utilising vegan materials. This is quite surprising because it seems that quite a few brands, like WOMSH, a brand that launched a Vegan Shoe Line earlier this year, are investing in vegan materials. If one was to take a closer look, it seems that each generation values vegan materials slightly less than the generation before. 

Image Credit: WOMSH

MakerSights reports that when it comes to sustainable materials, GenX is most concerned with sustainable materials production. “Other generations, including Millennials, do not value sustainable materials as much as GenX does. GenZ is 85% more likely than the Silent Generation to value sustainable materials”, explains the research. Although GenX and GenZ are closely aligned when it comes to sustainable manufacturing, GenZ values sustainable manufacturing 106% more than Millennials do and 110% more than the Silent Generation.

Corporate Social Responsibility has always been the pink elephant in the room. It is subject that is most talked about but yet change is slow. GenZ and the Baby Boomers most highly value corporate Social Responsibility programs. Millennials, GenX and the Silent Generation value CSR much less.

Which Gender Is Gravitating Towards Sustainability-friendly Brands?

The most interesting part of the research for me was gender. I was curious to find out what MakerSights found out regarding what men and women valued when it comes to sustainable fashion. They said: “Paradoxically, men are both 129% more likely than women to pay nothing for sustainability efforts and 2x more likely than women to spend 50% or more for sustainability”.  Interesting. It seems like women outranked men in their willingness to spend 25% more for sustainable garments.

ALSO READ: 5 Sustainable Innovations Translated From An Eco- Idea Into An Everyday Product

MakerSights found that men valued sustainable manufacturing more than women, along with renewable energy and low-emissions transportation and corporate social responsibility programs. Women valued materials that are sustainable, ethically-sourced, recycled or vegan more than men do.

So what sustainable initiatives do consumers value? Well, MakerSights concluded that 73% of consumers prefer to purchase from the environmentally friendly brand and that 80% of retailers said the reason for their sustainable initiatives is “more positive perception of our company by consumers.”

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Muchaneta Kapfunde

Founding editor-in-chief at FashNerd.com
Founding editor-in-chief & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta has worked in the fashion industry for over 14 years. She is currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology and a regular contributor to digital news sites like Wareable.
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