Is Clean the new Green?

Since the start of the lockdown, we have been engaging deeply with 102 consumers from 13 countries in a COVID-19 consumer community, to get an understanding of (the changes in) their everyday lives. In our ‘Consumers Unmasked’ webinars, we illustrate some of these changes, one of them being the near and far future of sustainability in a post-lockdown era. How sustainable is sustainability in a (post-)lockdown scenario? Is clean the new green?

We were all green pre-COVID-19

2019 could be labeled as the year of ‘conscious consumption’. In our proprietary global sustainability research (executed before the Corona outbreak), 8 out of 10 consumers declared finding sustainability important. 71% agreed that climate change is an important issue that should be tackled; and 3 out of 4 respondents stated that “brands and companies are responsible for taking care of the planet”. During the climate strikes late September 2019, some 6 million people around the world marched through the streets in protest – 1 million of them were Italian. Ocean plastics became a household topic, and reducing, recycling and reusing packaging was high on the agenda worldwide, for both consumers and companies.

And then came the lockdown

Confined to our own homes and immediate surroundings, we started revaluing walking and cycling in parks and in nature. With very few planes crossing our blue skies, industries in pause mode and traffic more than halved, many big cities benefited from an unseen 40 to 60% reduction in PM 2.5 levels. In normal language: the air quality has not been this good since WWII. Next, while humans are safely indoors, wildlife is taking over towns and city streets (as for example in Wales, where goats were spotted wandering the streets).

However, the decline in CO2 emissions will most likely be short-lived, and closing factories and banning cars will definitely not be the solution to obtain climate change. The big question is: while most companies will be struggling with surviving the pandemic crisis and its economic consequences, what will happen with the initial plans of becoming CO2 neutral by 2025-2030? Will consumers – also hit hard in their wallets – still demand eco-friendly brands?

The plastic comeback

Today’s shoppers are choosing packaged vegetables and fruit rather than bulk produce, for fear of contamination. Reusable shopping bags are banned from stores, and people wear disposable gloves. This germaphobia (see also enochlophobic crowds) could also affect the share economy, with consumers currently focusing on safety and hygiene rather than on saving the environment. But sustainability is definitely not completely off the post-COVID-19 consumer’s agenda. While reducing their grocery shopping frequency to minimize the risk of infection, they also reduce their food waste. Their stronger sense of community and the current movement restrictions have helped consumers rediscover local farmers, butchers, bakeries… and even their close environment as an alternative to travelling to destinations abroad.

Green p(r)eppers

After this unexpected crisis, we will all become ‘preppers’, preparing ourselves for the next virus or next corona wave if a vaccine is not developed soon. This will lead to more eco-conscious behavior, e.g. becoming self-sufficient by growing our own vegetables and/or installing solar panels. Citizens will actively ask city councils to cut down urban car usage and turn to more eco-friendly inner-city transport. The city of Milan, one of the first European cities to go into lockdown, has already planned to transform 35 km of its roads into open streets’ for cyclists and walkers.

In the longer term, it’s likely we will move from cautious consumption back to more conscious consumption. With climate change as the next big threat for humanity, the time will come again for woke consumers to (re)join forces (6 feet apart).

Tune in and hear from Joeri Van den Bergh (Future Consumer Expert & Co-founder InSites Consulting) and Sarah Van Oerle (our COVID-19 Community Manager) what consumers envision as their new reality. Consumers Unmasked: Insights into an evolving COVID-19 reality!

Interested in tapping into your own Consumers Unmasked community? Check out our dedicated COVID-19 online community approach and get in touch!

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