Trend Monitor: Inflation Puts the Brakes on Sustainable Consumption
6/7/2023 Brands Retail Article

Trend Monitor: Inflation Puts the Brakes on Sustainable Consumption

Sustainability has gradually become one of the most important topics in everyday consumer life. However, according to the study “Trendmonitor Deutschland” the significant price increases of recent months have led to a noticeable decline in sustainable consumption in Germany.

The The "Trendmonitor Germany" by Nordlight Research examines sustainability in private consumption and does reality check.

The trend toward less sustainable consumption is particularly pronounced when it comes to buying food: Currently, only 48 percent of German citizens are paying more attention to sustainability; in 2021, 58 percent still did. This is shown by the current edition of the “Trendmonitor Deutschland” by Nordlight Research on the focus topic “Sustainability Reality Check.”

But according to these representative results, the trend toward more sustainable consumption is also losing momentum in other areas. In general, consumers are just less willing to pay more for sustainable products.

Another result of the survey is that producers and retailers clearly have significant problems communicating their sustainability efforts in a credible way: Only 12 percent of German citizens trust them. They would like companies to provide more facts about sustainability, as well as independently authenticated evidence.

“Sustainable consumption and production are big goals that now have to pass the reality test,” says study leader Liesa Fiegl, Senior Research Consultant at Nordlight Research. “Currently, the development looks rather sobering and stagnant in parts. The economic reality limits existing ambitions. Regarding the longer term, however, clear opportunities and potentials are emerging, as many people continue to feel the desire to consume more sustainably.”

How Sustainable are Consumers in their Everyday Lives?

A quarter of German citizens (25 percent) say they already pay a great deal of attention to sustainability in their everyday lives (2021: 23 percent). Eight percent (2021: 9 percent), on the other hand, do so only very little or not at all. The vast majority are in the middle of the field. Looking to the future, two-thirds of consumers say they intend to make their everyday behavior more sustainable. In contrast, nine percent do not want to pay any more attention to sustainability in the future (2021: 8 percent). More specifically, around one in three Germans (2023: 37 percent; 2021: 33 percent) are prepared to give up some of their everyday comforts in favor of sustainability. 41 percent (2021: 46 percent) are also happy to pay a little more for sustainable products. However, a significantly growing number of consumers (2023: 40 percent; 2021: 35 percent) also state that they cannot really afford sustainability financially.

Household (79 percent), mobility (52 percent), and food (48 percent) are among the areas in which German citizens are comparatively most concerned about sustainability. Particularly in the household, and to some extent also in mobility, this manifests itself as a “new frugality”, for example, in reduced consumption of electricity, water and fuels. This is often driven by one’s own wallet, not solely by sustainability considerations. As a result, savings are currently also being made by not buying the usually more expensive, more sustainable products, above all in the food sector. In the study, respondents were not explicitely asked about their packaging preferences, but about the product categories mentioned.

Sustainability aspects are particularly important to Germans in their purchasing decisions in the following areas: Food (59 percent)) remains the most important area, despite the current decline in sustainable consumption in this segment. This is followed by energy supply (56 percent), care, cosmetics, hygiene and health products (50 percent) – and at a considerable distance by cars (40 percent) and travel (36 percent).

The Typical Sustainable Consumer

The following target groups, among others, currently achieve above-average sustainability scores on the “sustainable private consumption” index: city dwellers (33 percent), early adopters (33 percent), high-income earners (31 percent; net household income over EUR 3,000) and families with children (31 percent). “Sustainable consumption should not be a luxury. Nor should it be solely a question of personal consumption styles,” says Thomas Donath, Managing Director of Nordlight Research. “It is, therefore, the task of producers and retailers – and, in terms of direction, also of politics – to make more sustainable consumption possible for as many population groups as possible. After all, even people with less purchasing power or eco-savviness are moved by the desire to live and consume more sustainably.”

The market research institute GfK also asked consumers whether and how sustainably they shop. According to the latest “GfK Sustainability Index,” environmental aspects have regained importance when shopping in the period from January to April. According to this study, most consumers are willing to spend more money on sustainable products. However, many are buying organic products more price-consciously than before, for example by opting for private label products from discounters. GfK also concludes that it is primarily people with higher budgets who shop sustainably.