Belgian consumers place more importance on sustainability today than pre-COVID-19

Almost 9 out of 10 Belgians feel that ‘sustainability’ is important today, compared to 8 in 10 just twelve months ago, pre-COVID-19. According to our two-part study conducted in July 2019 and August 2020, this increase was seen across all generations, with the largest change in attitude recorded among Millennials (+13%).

With sustainability so high on the agenda, it’s unsurprising that in 2020, 49% of Belgians claim to be living sustainably themselves, an 8% increase since 2019. In line with this, more consumers are practicing sustainability habits than 12 months ago. Most notably, a 21% increase has been measured in those refusing plastic bags (71%) and a 15% increase in those using up leftovers (87%) in an effort to live sustainably.

Due to the lockdown and closed restaurants, people rediscovered the pleasures of preparing home-made meals. To minimize unneeded shop visits – and avoid queues outside or decrease the risk of getting infected – consumers were more conscious about expiry dates of the food in their fridge.

Energy, clothing and durables are the top 3 industries to ensure sustainability, according to Belgian consumers

When considering the importance of sustainability in different industries, Belgian consumers rank energy, clothing and durables as their top 3. Interestingly, the percentage of Gen Z consumers ranking the clothing industry in their top 3 has doubled in the last twelve months, from 21% to 42%.

This sentiment is in line with the DIY clothing trend we witnessed during the COVID-19 lockdown, with young consumers making more conscious efforts to become sustainable by customizing and upcycling clothes, while it also helped them to stay positive through some boring months of being quarantined at home.

Aside from creating good sustainability habits, the COVID-19 lockdown has made 64% of Belgian consumers revalue nature and the importance of clean air. Therefore, it hardly comes as a surprise that consumers ranked reducing CO2 emissions as the most important sustainability concern, with the largest change in sentiment over twelve months felt by Millennials (+14%). This desire for clean air has had a considerable impact on the mobility sector, where consumers are now demanding safe, hygienic and socially distanced transport which also reduces congestion and pollution. 46% of Belgian consumers in 2020 believe that diesel and fossil fuel cars should be phased out and replaced by electric cars. Almost 4 out of 10 (38%) Belgians agree that cities should be made car-free (which is 11% more than pre-COVID-19).

More than 8 out of 10 Belgian consumers believe brands and companies have the responsibility to look after the planet

Closely linked to CO2 emissions, climate change is considered an important sustainability issue for 84% of consumers today, an 18% increase since 2019. In fact, 38% of Belgians believe that the COVID-19 crisis is a consequence of global ecological imbalance, the globalization of commerce and travel, and food chain problems. 84% believe that brands and companies have the responsibility to look after the planet, a sentiment which has also increased (+13%) in the last year. More than 6 out of 10 (64%) Belgians state that they would also like to change their own consumption habits in order to support sustainability. These good intentions are slightly higher (70%) among women and young generations (Millennials and Gen Z).

In general, we saw that almost 8 out of 10 Belgians think the government is not doing enough to limit climate change. Although they feel the government should take the lead in propagating sustainability, the urgency of the issue and the politicians’ slow reaction to climate strikes in the past makes consumers turn to corporations and brands to create a better world.

Increased concern for racial diversity and equality amongst Belgian consumers

Perhaps most interesting of all, when asked about the themes they associate with sustainability, 18% of Belgian consumers reference safeguarding racial diversity and equality, a sentiment which has increased by 6% across all generations. The figures are slightly higher for Gen Z consumers, with 21% currently associating diversity and equality with sustainability, up from 9% in 2019. We can safely assume that this increase has been influenced by the social unrest in recent months and the subsequent protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, for example.

The coronavirus and the economic crisis are forcing Generation Z, the most diverse generation ever, to recognize inequality and disparity even more. COVID-19 will fuel youth activism as they now have extra concerns for their future.

Eager for more? Watch the full recording of our Conscious Consumptions Belgian virtual event with Joeri Van den Bergh. How sustainable is sustainability for Belgian brands post-COVID-19? Tune in to find out!
Conscious Consumption amongst Belgian consumers - how sustainable is sustainability for Belgian brands post-COVID-19?

The facts and figures in this article are based on a two-part study conducted by InSites Consulting in July 2019 and August 2020 among 400 respondents from four generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z) in Belgium (400 per wave). The sample is representative for each generation.

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