Sustainability attitudes and behaviours of Australian shoppers

Sustainability attitudes and behaviours of Australian shoppers

The history of sustainability can be traced back to ancient civilisations that practised basic conservation methods. However, the modern sustainability movement emerged in the 20th century in response to growing environmental concerns.

In the 21st century, sustainability evolved into a multidimensional concept, encompassing environmental, social, and economic aspects. Initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement aimed to address climate change and promote global environmental responsibility.

Today, sustainability has become a global priority, with governments, businesses, and individuals working together to find sustainable solutions to pressing challenges such as climate change, resource depletion, and social inequality.

In 2023, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that Australia would join the G7-established Climate Club to take more ambitious action in tackling climate change alongside other governments across the globe.

But just how far are Australians on the sustainability journey? And what are their attitudes and behaviours when it comes to engaging in sustainable practices and consumption?

Monash Business School’s Australian Consumer and Retail Studies (ACRS) conducted research into attitudes and behaviours of Australian shoppers towards sustainability as part of a larger retail study, the ACRS Retail Monitor.

The research found that more than half of Aussie shoppers (51%) say sustainability is an important factor when making a retail purchase.

 A bundle of paper shopping bags in an Australian shopper's hand.
51% of Australian shoppers reported that sustainability is an important factor when making a retail purchase. Canva.

Some categories and sustainability attributes are more important than others

Australians frequently buy more in some retail categories, and the sustainable elements they seek in goods largely reflect these categories.

Grocery and related products, and apparel, such as clothing, footwear, and accessories, are the most common retail purchases among Aussie shoppers, with the majority of Australians buying these goods in the past three months (75% and 69%, respectively).

When asked about sustainability-related factors that are important when making a retail purchase decision, the majority of Australians say products that are durable or long-lasting (85%), and repairable or fixable (73%) are most important to them.

It’s no wonder, then, that Australia and other countries have seen such exceptional growth in the second-hand market in recent years, with Statista reporting the Australian resale market valued at more than $60 billion in 2022.

Consumers also felt it was an important factor if products are locally produced (64%), ethically produced (62%), and packaged in recyclable materials (59%).

This can be seen in companies’ efforts to make sustainability a priority, and make it easier for consumers to make good consumption choices.

For example, from April this year, Mars Wrigley Australia launched recyclable paper-based packaging for the company’s MARS BAR®, SNICKERS® and MILKY WAY® chocolate bars—an initiative led by the local Ballarat research and development team, and expected to be shared and implemented in other Mars Wrigley markets across the globe in the future.

Aussie shoppers engage in sustainable practices

Sustainable practices like repairing worn clothing is becoming more popular.
96% of Australian consumers engage in sustainable practices. Canva.

Almost all Australian shoppers (96%) engaged in at least one type of sustainable practice in the past three months.

Gone are the days of outrage towards supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths for banning single-use plastic bags at the checkout, with more than three-quarters (77%) of Australians now bringing their own shopping bags to stores – the most common sustainable practice engaged in by Aussie shoppers.

In fact, following the 2018 ban, and witnessing the majority of customers bringing their own bags to the checkout, the supermarket giants committed to removing the 15-cent, made from 80% recycled materials, reusable soft-plastic shopping bags from stores across Australia by the end of June 2023.
Most Australians also reported that they recycle product waste (62%), and almost half buy locally sourced or produced products (44%).

Among those who engaged in various sustainability practices, the vast majority say they engage in these practices frequently. For example, 93% of shoppers who bring their own shopping bags to stores say they do this on a regular basis.

Similarly, close to nine in 10 shoppers who recycle product waste (91%) or compost food waste (88%) say that they engage in these activities frequently. And the good news is that a growing number of Aussies say they’re likely to participate in some form of sustainable retail practices in the future.

Age groups differ substantially by the types of sustainable practices they engage in
While engagement in sustainable practices is largely consistent across various demographics, Aussies differ considerably across generations.

Arguably, the most interesting finding is the difference between how various age groups—particularly younger and older shoppers—differ in their views and the magnitude of their behaviours towards sustainability.

Older Australian shoppers, aged 55 and over, tend to bring their own shopping bags to stores, recycle product waste, buy locally-sourced or produced products, and compost food waste significantly more than other age groups; while their younger counterparts, aged 18 to 34, engage in these practices considerably less than other age groups.

On the other hand, younger Aussies, aged 18-34, take public transport, buy second-hand products, and recommend eco-friendly products to friends, family, and peers more than other age groups; while older Australian shoppers, aged 55 and over, engage in these practices significantly less than other age groups.

Aussies say they are willing to pay more for sustainable choices

In May 2023, ACRS reported how Australians are changing their spending and retail habits due to the cost-of-living squeeze. While Aussies are feeling the pinch, one ray of light from that research was that Australian shoppers are becoming more conscious of what they buy, and are making more sustainable choices.

Consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable choices.
Consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable consumption choices. Canva.

ACRS’ latest study, which delves deeper into retail sustainability, also suggests Australians are signalling their desire for sustainable consumption choices with their wallets.

More than half of Australian consumers say they’re willing to pay more for products that are durable (67%), repairable (55%), and locally produced (52%)—a sentiment shared by all ages.
Interestingly, younger consumers, 18-34, are significantly more willing to pay for ethically-produced products, as well as products made from, and packaged in, recycled materials.

While sustainability perceptions and practices may differ among shoppers, the positive shifts in attitudes and behaviours of government, businesses, and individuals are a step in the right direction to a better future for all.

Research note: The ACRS Retail Monitor investigates Australian consumers’ shopping preferences, attitudes, and behaviour. Data on sustainability was collected from n=1001 randomly-selected Australian shoppers in June 2023.
This article was first published on Monash Lens and has been republished with permission under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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