This report provides comprehensive and current information and analysis of the Sustainable Consumer market including Sustainable Consumer market size, anticipated market forecast, relevant market segmentation, and industry trends for the Sustainable Consumer market in Canada.

Current market landscape in consumer demand for sustainable products

As much as Canadians may want to consume sustainably, there is one word that describes their current state of mind: confusion. Sustainability is a very complex topic; ‘it depends’ is a common refrain for those who ask what is the right sustainable choice to make. At the same time, consumers still need to consider other important purchase factors – like price, quality and brand – meaning sustainability is further complicating their decisions. At this point, consumers’ willingness to be sustainable is less of a barrier than their ability to understand its seemingly endless nuances.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the complexities of sustainability. On one hand, closures and remote work/school helped to limit mobility and therefore made it easier to live sustainably by reducing the need to travel. Yet the immediate threat of the pandemic made it necessary for Canadians to overlook sustainability in the short term – such as using disposable masks and gloves. Eventually, the pandemic could be a turning point for sustainability, acting as a wake-up call for existential global threats – but in the meantime, its impact has been much less straightforward.

Market share and key industry trends

The fact that

  • 78% of consumers recycle at home
  • 76% of consumers use reusable shopping bags at the grocery store
  • 26% buy secondhand clothing
  • 10% drive eco-friendly vehicles

indicates that there is a line that many are still not willing to cross. Consumers will be most responsive to sustainable actions that require minimal sacrifice in their day-to-day lives. That poses a challenge to companies because it limits the number of solutions that are both sustainable and relevant to consumers. They need to thread the needle to find ways to create meaningful change, but in a way that is palatable to consumers so that sales are not negatively impacted. Conversely, there is potential for a new benefit to compensate for the sacrifice consumers are making – such as bringing reusable mugs to coffee shops, which typically results in a slight discount on a beverage and offers a better drinking experience than paper cups.

Future consumer sustainability trends

For companies that want to become more sustainable, the biggest threat will be doing so in a way that resonates with consumers. Canadians want to be sustainable, but their actions show that they gravitate towards actions that have minimal negative impact on their lives – or, ideally, actually offer benefits over the less sustainable option. That means that companies will need to thread the needle of implementing tactics that will have an impact on sustainability but that consumers will realistically accept by adapting their behaviours.

The good news is that Canadians are open-minded about sustainability. Most of them consider themselves sustainable and acknowledge that their personal choices have an impact on global sustainability. More tangibly, the majority recycle and bring reusable bags to the grocery store. That consistency throughout the market means that sustainability strategies can have broad appeal rather than depending on niche groups like in the past.

Read on to discover more about the Sustainable Consumer market, read our Canada Sustainability in Food Market Report 2020, or take a look at our other Sustainability research reports.

Quickly understand consumer attitudes towards sustainability

  • What sustainability means to consumers and who they believe is responsible for it.
  • The actions that consumers believe are sustainable and the ones they are actually doing.
  • Evaluating consumers’ current understanding of sustainable comparisons.
  • Identifying the concerns that are driving the importance of sustainability.
  • Tactics companies can use to connect with consumers’ interest in sustainability.

Covered in this report

Brands include: Cargill, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Adidas, L’Oréal, IKEA, Frank and Oak.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field of consumer awareness of sustainability

This report, written by Scott Stewart, a leading analyst in the Lifestyles and Leisure sector, delivers in-depth commentary and analysis of sustainable consumer brands to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

At this point, most Canadians are sustainable consumers. Companies can confidently roll out sustainability strategies knowing that consumers are receptive.
The challenge will be finding the best way to do so. Most consumers want to be sustainable, yet do not want to make major sacrifices. And there is still lots of confusion around the topic, meaning education and guidance are necessary. Companies have an opportunity to be leaders by making sustainable consumption simple to implement and easy to understand.

Scott Stewart, Associate Director, Lifestyles and Leisure
Scott Stewart
Associate Director, Lifestyles and Retail

Table of Contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Key issues covered in this Report
        • Definition
        • Executive Summary

            • Top takeaways
              • Market overview
                • Impact of COVID-19 on sustainable consumption
                  • Figure 1: Immediate, short and longer-term impact of COVID-19 on sustainable consumption, 2020-25
                • Opportunities
                  • Consumers want to be sustainable
                    • Canadians want businesses to be sustainability leaders
                      • Challenges
                        • Consumers do not want to make major sacrifices
                          • There is a lot of confusion around sustainability
                          • The Market – Key Takeaways

                            • Sustainability is becoming impossible to ignore
                            • The Market – By the Numbers

                              • Canadians acknowledge their role in sustainability
                                • Figure 2: Climate change suffering and contribution, by country, 2021
                            • Market Factors

                              • Sustainability’s shift to the mainstream is creating generational gaps
                                • Inflation has a complex relationship with sustainable consumption
                                  • Figure 3: Consumer price index, 2020 and 2021
                                • Extreme weather events are happening closer to home
                                  • Digital tech could soon become more of an energy-use concern
                                    • Impact of COVID-19 on sustainable consumption
                                      • Immediate impacts (2020)
                                        • Figure 4: Higher priority as a result of the pandemic, 2020
                                      • Short term (2021)
                                        • Recovery (2022-25)
                                        • Companies and Brands – Key Takeaways

                                          • Sustainability has become a must-have strategy
                                          • Competitive Strategies

                                            • Food and beverage companies are under the microscope
                                              • Cargill is positioning its meat as a sustainable choice
                                                • Figure 5: Cargill Instagram post, December 2021
                                              • Sustainability messaging has become standard for household care
                                                • Figure 6: Unilever Canada Instagram post, August 2019
                                                • Figure 7: Proctor & Gamble Instagram post, December 2021
                                              • Fashion/apparel and personal care/beauty have more difficult decisions
                                                • Figure 8: Adidas Instagram post, December 2021
                                                • Figure 9: L’Oréal Instagram post, October 2021
                                              • Sustainability reports have become the norm
                                              • The Consumer – Key Takeaways

                                                • Defining sustainability and who is responsible
                                                  • Impactful sustainability actions
                                                    • Consumers’ sustainable actions
                                                      • Consumers’ understanding of sustainability
                                                        • Sustainability concerns
                                                          • What businesses can do
                                                          • Defining Sustainability and Who Is Responsible

                                                            • For most Canadians, sustainability is about the environment
                                                              • Figure 10: Defining sustainability, 2021
                                                            • Environmental protection leads across demographics, while other pillars vary
                                                              • Figure 11: Defining sustainability, by age, 2021
                                                              • Figure 12: Defining sustainability, by living location, 2021
                                                              • Figure 13: Defining sustainability, by race, 2021
                                                            • Quebec consumers are less likely to think of environmental protection
                                                              • Figure 14: Defining sustainability, by region, 2021
                                                            • Consumers know they have an impact, but only to a point
                                                              • Figure 15: Responsible for improving sustainability, 2021
                                                            • Younger consumers want governments to act, older consumers want companies to
                                                              • Figure 16: Responsible for improving sustainability, by age, 2021
                                                          • Impactful Sustainability Actions

                                                            • Thinking of sustainability both pre- and post-purchase
                                                              • Figure 17: Most impactful actions to improve sustainability, 2021
                                                            • Post-purchase tactics will be the most obvious to consumers
                                                              • Figure 18: Most impactful actions to improve sustainability: post-purchase, by age, 2021
                                                              • Figure 19: For Future Generations – 1993 PSA Still Relevant Today, August 2010
                                                            • Pre-purchase impacts are less salient, but can be just as important
                                                              • Figure 20: Most impactful actions to improve sustainability: pre-purchase, by age, 2021
                                                            • Alberta and Quebec will require tailored sustainability strategies
                                                              • Figure 21: Most impactful actions to improve sustainability: pre-purchase, Quebec and Alberta vs overall, 2021
                                                          • Consumers’ Sustainable Actions

                                                            • Consumers consider themselves sustainable and want to take action
                                                                • Figure 22: Recent sustainability actions, 2021
                                                              • The easiest actions are the most common
                                                                • Older consumers and women are the most likely to recycle and reuse bags
                                                                    • Figure 23: Recent sustainability actions: recycling and reusing bags, by age, 2021
                                                                  • Some actions require greater change, but still offer secondary benefits
                                                                      • Figure 24: IKEA Canada Instagram post, August 2021
                                                                    • Younger consumers are more likely to engage in these win-win sustainable solutions
                                                                      • Figure 25: Recent sustainability actions: reusable mugs, second-hand clothing and diets, by age, 2021
                                                                      • Figure 26: Recent sustainability actions: reusable mugs, second-hand clothing and diets, by daily social media usage, 2021
                                                                    • A lack of household income skews shows that this is not driven by budget
                                                                        • Figure 27: Recent sustainability actions: reusable mugs, second-hand clothing and diets, 18-34s, by household income, 2021
                                                                      • Cultural differences in second-hand clothing purchases
                                                                        • Figure 28: Recent sustainability actions: reusable mugs, second-hand clothing and diets, by race, 2021
                                                                        • Figure 29: Recent sustainability actions: reusable mugs, second-hand clothing and diets, Quebec vs overall, 2021
                                                                      • Few consumers are making major commitments to sustainability
                                                                        • Even ‘sustainable consumers’ are reluctant to engage in these behaviours
                                                                          • Figure 30: Recent sustainability actions, ‘I am a sustainable consumer’, 2021
                                                                      • Consumers’ Understanding of Sustainability

                                                                        • It is hard to know what is sustainable
                                                                            • Figure 31: Perceived negative impact on the environment, 2021
                                                                          • Plastic vs paper is a perfect example of the confusion
                                                                            • Younger consumers seem to be more aware of the complexities
                                                                              • Figure 32: Perceived negative impact on the environment: plastic vs paper, by age, 2021
                                                                            • Lawns and gardens are the most debatable for consumers
                                                                              • Sustainability confusion can have direct impacts on consumer industries
                                                                                  • Figure 33: Google Twitter post, October 2021
                                                                                • Shopping channels can be a sustainable choice
                                                                                • Sustainability Concerns

                                                                                  • Sustainable actions are driven by concerns about consequences
                                                                                    • Figure 34: Sustainability concerns, 2021
                                                                                  • Older consumers are the most likely to worry about negative impacts
                                                                                    • Figure 35: Environmental sustainability concerns, by age, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 36: Frank and Oak Instagram post, November 2021
                                                                                  • Women are more concerned about consequences than men
                                                                                    • Figure 37: Environmental sustainability concerns, men vs women, 2021
                                                                                  • A distinct correlation between vaccination status and sustainability concerns
                                                                                    • Figure 38: Sustainability concerns, by vaccination status, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 39: Sustainability concerns, by concern about exposure to COVID-19, 2021
                                                                                  • Few are concerned about foreign economic or social challenges
                                                                                  • What Businesses Can Do

                                                                                    • A third of consumers tune out sustainability messaging
                                                                                      • Figure 40: “I generally ignore/tune out sustainability messaging” (% agree), by age and gender, 2021
                                                                                      • Figure 41: “I generally ignore/tune out sustainability messaging” (% agree), by region, 2021
                                                                                    • Consumers want transparency
                                                                                      • Two thirds of consumers are interested in immediate offsets
                                                                                        • Younger Canadians and associated consumer groups are the most interested
                                                                                          • Figure 42: “I’d like to be able to immediately offset the carbon footprint of a purchase” (% agree), by age, 2021
                                                                                          • Figure 43: “I’d like to be able to immediately offset the carbon footprint of a purchase” (% agree), by race, living location and social media usage, 2021
                                                                                      • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                                                        • Data sources
                                                                                          • Consumer survey data
                                                                                            • Consumer qualitative research
                                                                                              • Mintel Trend Drivers
                                                                                                • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                  • Abbreviations
                                                                                                    • Terms

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