The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated consumers’ focus on sustainability and willingness to pay out of their own pockets — or even take a pay cut — for a sustainable future, according to a new IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) survey of more than 14,000 consumers in nine countries.
Nine in 10 consumers surveyed reported the COVID-19 pandemic affected their views on environmental sustainability, and COVID-19 was the top factor cited in influencing their view — more than others presented such as widespread wildfires/brushfires, disasters due to weather events, and news coverage on the topic.
The survey also revealed differences in consumer opinion across geographies, with Americans surveyed reporting the least concern about sustainability topics. For example, only 51% of US consumers surveyed said addressing climate change was very or extremely important to them, compared to 73% of respondents from all other countries.
According to the survey, many consumers are increasingly willing to change how they shop, travel, choose an employer, and even where they make personal investments due to environmental sustainability factors.
Many surveyed employees are willing to accept a lower salary to work at a sustainability-conscious employer
According to the survey, 71% of employees and employment seekers surveyed say that environmentally sustainable companies are more attractive employers. In addition, more than two-thirds of the full potential workforce respondents are more likely to apply for and accept jobs with environmentally and socially responsible organizations — and nearly half surveyed would accept a lower salary to work for such organizations.
At the same time, 48% of consumers surveyed trust corporate commitments on sustainability, with 64% of respondents expecting increased public scrutiny in the year ahead.
Environmental sustainability is affecting personal investment decisions
Forty-eight percent of all personal investors surveyed already take environmental sustainability into account in their investment portfolios and a further fifth (21%) surveyed say they are likely to do so in the future. 59% of personal investors surveyed expect to buy or sell holdings in the next year based on environmental sustainability factors.
Many surveyed shoppers and travelers are willing to pay more for environmental sustainability
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial impact on many individuals, 54% of consumers surveyed are willing to pay a premium for brands that are sustainable and/or environmentally responsible.
The survey also found that 55% of consumers surveyed report sustainability is very or extremely important to them when choosing a brand – 22% higher than consumers surveyed pre-COVID-19 pandemic by IBM. Slightly more than six in 10 consumers surveyed said they are willing to change their purchasing behavior to help reduce negative impact on the environment, with consumers surveyed in India (78%) and China (70%) being the most willing.
Earlier this month, a global survey of companies and institutional investors commissioned by ING showed the COVID-19 pandemic as a “white swan” moment, which has accelerated the majority of companies’ sustainable transformation plans. At the same time, investors are demanding more hard environmental targets be put in place by companies. Despite this, ING says companies, investors, and governments must move faster and further in making environmental, social and governance (ESG) progress as the pandemic raises the bar for ambition.