Are businesses doing enough to influence sustainable consumer behaviour?

April 22nd sees the annual Earth Day, a day set aside to raise awareness around the environmental crisis that is currently affecting our planet. The idea around the movement is to highlight what is presently being done to inspire change and what still needs improvement. Here, Business Leader looks at what businesses are doing to influence sustainable consumer behaviour and what we as a collective can do to be more sustainable as a whole.

What is the significance of Earth Day and why is it important?

Earth Day is a significant movement because it is centred around one of the most relevant and important topics in the present day. The Earth Day movement works worldwide to help improve upon a number of environmental factors. These include ending plastic pollution, acting on climate change and conservation and restoration.

It is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement and has been in operation for over 50 years. Along with its considerable global efforts, it also gives an opportunity to reflect on what is happening in an individual sense and what can be done to improve sustainability in general. Resources such as the WWF’s environmental calculator are great for providing a gauge on the impact one may be having on the global ecosystem.

How much influence do businesses have on the consumer?

When it comes to sustainable choices, consumers often have a mentality revolving around the thought that ‘if I did more personally then it would make a bigger difference’. While that is broadly true in many ways, the consumer is still massively influenced by businesses all the time. For example, while the option for reusable bags is available in shops everywhere, the biggest change will come from those same shops saying that they will no longer be using plastic bags. In turn, the majority of businesses are still openly enabling consumers to make non-sustainable choices. It is evidently difficult for people to change, which puts further emphasis on the power that exists within businesses to truly influence consumer behaviour.

Why is sustainability important for the future of businesses?

The climate collapse is arguably the biggest issue that we are facing at the present time. Taking into account all social, economic, political and macro-environmental factors, there is easily a case to be made that the future could be bleak for businesses. Current thinking may be fine for the short or medium-term in the next five to 10 years, but it will not be sustainable in 20 years if trends continue. The resources will decline, quality of living will be poorer, inequalities will be increased, more people will live in poverty and children will receive less education. These factors are why the focus on sustainability as a whole is so crucial.

It is also important to be able to face such hard truths so there can be a genuine motivation behind actually bothering to make a change. Throughout the past couple of years, a lot of sustainable output has changed as a result of the digital transformation that has happened due to Covid. While there have been fewer C02 emissions and travel, there has been an increase in plastic waste due to items such as masks and PPE. As with many things, it is about striking a balance.

What can individual consumers do to be more sustainable?

As an individual, there are many things that can be done to be more sustainable, whether it be big or small. For example, there are viable alternatives to using standard washing detergent, such as organic soap nuts. These are cheap and biodegradable and can help to reduce the amount of microplastics in clothing as well as in the oceans.

With the aim of getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, there will likely be an increase in energy-wise water and gas providers. If you are looking at home improvements, for example, it would be a good idea to look at being wise about the businesses that you are collaborating with.

Also, when it comes to fabrics, home furnishings and clothes, there are many sustainable brands available that use a circular economy, so there is little to no waste. While it may cost more, it will also last a considerably longer time. Renting garments that you may only wear once or twice will also help to reduce textile waste.

Fast fashion, food waste and other non-sustainable contributors

‘Fast fashion’ is an ever-growing sector of the fashion industry that revolves around the mass production of various items of clothing. Often, since these items are made so quickly it means that the quality is low, as well as the price.

Though it is an incredibly lucrative part of the industry, it is also considerably detrimental to the environment. The emissions from the global shipment of items, the water consumption during production and the gargantuan amount of textile waste produced means that fast fashion is also accelerating climate change and global pollution.

Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to the current climate emergency, though there are many ways to help to have a positive impact in this regard. Using local farms or locally-sourced butchers can help to reduce the mileage in importing from abroad, as well as organic no-waste food and vegetable farms. Supermarkets are enormous sources of a range of negative environmental factors, from food waste to single-use plastic and carbon emissions.

There have been a number of schemes and promises made by UK supermarkets to help combat the climate crisis in recent years. For example, shops such as Tesco and Morrisons have both promised to make all packaging recyclable by 2025. In a recent study by Which?, Lidl and Waitrose were shown to be leading the way in terms of sustainability, while Iceland and Marks and Spencer were rated considerably lower.