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Canadians are changing their consumption habits in response to climate change concerns, but different age demographics are doing so in their own distinct ways, a recent survey has found.
Ernst and Young’s (EY) 2023 Future Consumer Index Survey, published Tuesday, found that more than half of surveyed Canadian consumers plan to buy less, and almost 40 per cent of those people said they would do so to help the environment.
Recent climate change-induced extreme weather events have affected people’s lives and started to narrow “a gap between intention and action” when it comes to sustainable consumption, according to EY.
“Acute instances of extreme weather, plus other factors, have caused people to move from having a recognition of sustainability being important to more often translating that into action,” EY partner Elliot Morris told BNNBloomberg.ca.
A summer of widespread wildfires across the country, paired with rising energy costs have made a “big difference” in demand for sustainably-made products, Morris said.
CONSUMERS WEIGH ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
Morris explained that while Canadians have cared about being environmentally friendly for some time, more and more consumers now believe sustainability is an important thing to consider when making purchasing decisions.
“If you think about what people look for when they go to make purchases or spend money, price and quality are still top, that hasn't changed,” he said.
“But number three and number four around sustainable packaging and the item being good for the environment are next, and they've both been moving up the rankings.”
EY’s survey found that 64 per cent of Canadians attribute their changing consumer habits to a personal concern for the fragility of the planet. But it also found there is a generational divide in how they are approaching sustainable consumption.
Baby boomers are more likely to use more traditional sustainable behaviours like conserving water or recycling, the survey found, while younger generations are more likely to “speak with their wallets.”
One-quarter of Gen Zers said they’re willing to pay for more sustainable goods and services compared with just six per cent of baby boomers, while 32 per cent of Gen Zers said they’ll check an organization’s sustainability policies online before buying, compared with seven per cent of baby boomers.
Morris said a big reason for the divide is that younger generations are better able to access the information required to confirm the claims companies make about sustainability.
“As they browse both aisles and online, Gen Z and millennials are able to confirm for themselves whether or not the claims are in fact true, and having confidence in the claims, they're willing to therefore pay more for them,” he said.
Morris said older generations have a harder time confirming or even finding out if a product is made sustainably, adding that as people age, they also become less likely to switch brands.
As sustainable consumption moves into the mainstream, Morris said producers will need to adjust to meet the demands of the growing market.
And uncertain economic conditions have presented a good test case for businesses to determine if Canadians will still seek out sustainable goods and services when money is tight, he added.
“Will consumers persist in their demand for sustainable products and options even in the face of the once in a generation challenge to affordability? So far, the answer appears to be yes,” Morris said.
In September 2023, EY conducted wave 13 of a consumer survey tracking changing sentiment and behaviours across time horizons and global markets, and identifying new consumer segments that are emerging.
Through an anonymous online survey, 22,000 unique responses were collected from consumers ranging in age from 18 to 80.
Respondents represent 28 countries across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Vietnam, Nigeria and South Korea.