Study: Sustainability Guilt Rises, While Climate Change Skepticism Falls

Consumers’ concerns about the environment are growing fast, with new research from GfK showing dramatic shifts in how that concern expresses itself. Some 69% of U.S. consumers now describe themselves as pro-environment, a gain of 17 points since 2012.

The best news may be that fewer people feel cynical about sustainability efforts. GfK, which calls this group the Jaded, says that now describes just 22% of Americans, a steep drop from 38% back in 2010.

Only the U.K. recorded a more significant decline, with the Jaded now accounting for 23% of the population, compared to 44% in 2012.

The fastest-growing group is what GfK calls the Glamour Greens, a group that sees its commitment to the environment as part badge of honor, part status symbol.

These people account for about 39% of U.S. consumers, doubling since 2010 and rising 9 points just this year.



To some degree, generational differences drive that growth, with younger adults -- the group most apt to express environmental beliefs via brand choices and social-media swagger -- more than doubling their representation in this category. In contrast, those 60 and older are least likely to fall into the GlamourGreen category at just 12%, up from 9% in 2010.

Those with the most intense concerns, which the study calls the Green InDeed, account for just 11%, while the least active group represents 20%. GfK, which has nicknamed those people the Carbon Cultured, says they differ from other segments because they are most likely to be focused on the easiest behaviors to change.

Guilt is the fastest-growing attitudinal shift. As consumers learn more about environmental crises, they feel worse about not doing more. About 42% of those in the global sample say they feel guilty when they “do something that’s not environmentally friendly,” up 14% from 2011. In North America, that sentiment has risen 7 points.

The second-largest change is deliberate shopping choices, with 42% now saying they only buy products or services from a trusted brand, compared to 32% in 2011. And 32% of the global sample say they will choose one brand over another if it supports a cause they believe in.

Consumers will reward brands with greener solutions. Among Americans, for example, 61% say they are willing to pay more for products that kill germs with fewer chemicals, a sharp rise even since 2016.

The study is based on 28 markets worldwide, with a sample of 2,000 people in each market.

“The byproducts of climate change and environmental degradation are impacting individuals on a more personal and real basis,” says Tim Kenyon, vice president at GfK Consumer Life and head of the GfK Green Gauge research program, in the report. “For marketers, this means the sustainability narrative is clearly evolving.”

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