“Sustainability is an issue many consumers, brands and retailers are focused on, and all parties want to leave a positive impact for generations to come. The significant increase in ecommerce has led to a rise in packaging and delivery materials, waste and emissions from delivery vehicles. As ecommerce continues to grow, brands need to guide consumers on how to shop more sustainably online through using technology, various content avenues, engagement opportunity, and improved business practices to help.”
– Katie Hansen, Retail & eCommerce Analyst

This Report looks at the following areas:

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior, sustainability and ecommerce
  • Consumers’ level of understanding sustainability initiatives
  • The areas consumers want brands to focus environmentally friendly options
  • The influence of claims, time given for research and trusted sources of information 

Table of Contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • This Report looks at the following areas
        • Definition
          • Market context
            • Economic and other assumptions
              • COVID-19: US context
              • Executive Summary

                  • Top takeaways
                    • Market overview
                      • Impact of COVID-19 on ecommerce and sustainability
                        • Figure 1: Short-, medium- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on total retail and sustainability behaviors online, 2021
                      • Opportunities and challenges
                        • Consumers want to be involved in sustainability initiatives
                          • Utilize the store, physical locations for environmental projects
                            • Changing consumers’ behavior to think about sustainability online takes time
                              • Technology will help consumers be more aware of their own impact
                              • The Market Landscape – Key Takeaways

                                • Increase in ecommerce is negatively impacting the environment
                                  • Technology aids sustainable practices
                                    • COVID-19 continues to impact consumers’ behavior
                                    • Market Landscape

                                      • Increased focus on environmental impact
                                        • Packaging
                                          • Emissions
                                            • Bracket Buying and Returns
                                              • Impact of COVID-19 on retail and sustainability behaviors online
                                              • Market Factors

                                                • The health of the environment is a concern for many consumers
                                                  • Consumers more likely to seek familiarity as confidence dips due to Delta
                                                    • Figure 2: Consumer sentiment index and unemployment, 2000-21
                                                  • Developments in technology lead to cleaner, greener delivery
                                                    • Help define productive sustainable actions with clear communications
                                                    • Companies and Brands – Key Takeaways

                                                      • Sustainable labels are guideposts for consumers
                                                        • Brands are making way for alternative delivery boxes
                                                          • Resale platforms are another outlet for sustainable shopping
                                                          • Competitive Strategies

                                                            • IKEA incorporates sustainability manual with products
                                                              • Figure 3: IKEA Canada Repurposeful instructions, 2021
                                                            • Companies invest in labeling systems to guide consumer’s shopping
                                                              • Walmart launches Built for Better
                                                                • Figure 4: Walmart launches Built For Better, 2021
                                                              • Amazon adds to Climate Pledge Friendly program
                                                                • Figure 5: Amazon launches Climate Pledge Friendly program, 2020
                                                              • Poshmark leads ecommerce sustainability with circular economy, social atmosphere
                                                                • Figure 6: Poshmark highlights sustainable alternatives, 2021
                                                            • Market Opportunities

                                                              • Focus on alternative delivery boxes by partnering with startups
                                                                • Leverage the store to reduce emissions, encourage sustainable shopping
                                                                  • Brands can get involved/start their own resale platform
                                                                    • Incorporate browser extensions to show sustainable efforts
                                                                    • The Consumer – Key Takeaways

                                                                      • Connect with consumers over education opportunities
                                                                        • Brands enable consumers to shop more sustainably
                                                                          • Involve consumers in the process
                                                                            • Product pages are critical in sustainability communication
                                                                              • Sustainability alone will never outweigh the basics of ecommerce
                                                                                • Higher prices don’t always deter shoppers
                                                                                • Sustainability Knowledge

                                                                                  • Connect with consumers via education and showing impact
                                                                                    • Figure 7: Understanding of sustainability efforts, 2021
                                                                                  • Engage with younger consumers on social, older consumers in the store
                                                                                    • Figure 8: Understanding of sustainability efforts, by age and gender, 2021
                                                                                  • Brands can be partners in shopping better for people and planet
                                                                                    • Figure 9: Stasher shows environmental efforts, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 10: Allbirds shows off product’s carbon footprint, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 11: Interest in sustainability efforts – Personal and branded efforts, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 12: Interest in sustainability efforts – Personal and branded efforts, 2021
                                                                                  • Follow up to demonstrate environmental impact of consumers’ choices
                                                                                    • Figure 13: Interest in sustainability efforts – Deliveries and returns, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 14: Interest in sustainability efforts – Deliveries and returns, by generation, 2021
                                                                                • Attitudes toward Sustainability

                                                                                  • Offering consumers avenues to make better shopping decisions
                                                                                    • Figure 15: Attitudes toward sustainability – Personal responsibility, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 16: Attitudes toward sustainability – Personal responsibility, by gender, 2021
                                                                                  • Content can connect consumers with conservation
                                                                                    • Figure 17: HBO Max and CALM partnership, 2020
                                                                                    • Figure 18: Attitudes toward sustainability – Actionable behaviors, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 19: Attitudes toward sustainability – Actionable behaviors, 2021
                                                                                  • Consumers look for brands to take ownership of environmental initiatives
                                                                                    • Figure 20: Attitudes toward sustainability – Brand responsibilities, 2021
                                                                                    • Figure 21: Attitudes toward sustainability – Brand responsibilities, by location, 2021
                                                                                  • The principles of ecommerce sought after over sustainability
                                                                                    • Quality, price will usually be prioritized over sustainability
                                                                                      • Figure 22: Patagonia, Worn Wear program, 2021
                                                                                    • Convenience works with sustainability options
                                                                                      • Over half of consumers are open to switching to sustainable product offerings
                                                                                        • Figure 23: Sustainability vs ecommerce principles, 2021
                                                                                      • Give younger generations ways to shop more environmentally friendly
                                                                                        • Figure 24: Sustainability vs ecommerce principles, by generation, 2021
                                                                                    • Sustainable Shopping Behaviors

                                                                                        • Consumers want to participate in ecofriendly actions
                                                                                          • Figure 25: Rothy’s recycles ready-to-donate shoes, 2021
                                                                                          • Figure 26: Sustainable features of interest, 2021
                                                                                        • Multicultural consumers are open to a variety of sustainable efforts
                                                                                          • Figure 27: Sustainable features of interest, by race, 2021
                                                                                        • Bolstering knowledge for suburban consumers; involving city dwellers in decisions
                                                                                          • Figure 28: Sustainable features of interest, by location, 2021
                                                                                      • Sustainability Research

                                                                                        • Sources
                                                                                          • Utilize the product description page to communicate sustainability options
                                                                                            • Figure 29: Sources of sustainability information, 2021
                                                                                          • Social media is a must for engaging younger consumers
                                                                                            • Figure 30: Sources of sustainability information, social media, by generation, 2021
                                                                                            • Figure 31: Sources of sustainability information, influencers, by generation, 2021
                                                                                          • Time Invested
                                                                                            • Brands have limited time to communicate sustainability efforts with shoppers
                                                                                              • Figure 32: Time willing to research, 2021
                                                                                            • Claims
                                                                                              • Tangible claims resonate with shoppers
                                                                                                • Figure 33: Important sustainability claims, 2021
                                                                                              • Women focus on direct claims; men focus on the production process
                                                                                                • Figure 34: Important sustainability claims, by gender, 2021
                                                                                            • Important Sustainable Factors

                                                                                              • Basic principles of ecommerce still trump the need for sustainability
                                                                                                • Figure 35: Important online shopping factors, 2021
                                                                                              • Parents more likely to gravitate toward environmentally friendly products
                                                                                                • Figure 36: Seventh Generation goes easy on the planet, tough on messes, 2021
                                                                                                • Figure 37: Important online shopping factors, by parental status, 2021
                                                                                              • Product materials are a strong opportunity to communicate sustainability
                                                                                                • Figure 38: Factors for product decision, 2021
                                                                                              • Consumers in cities need brands to do better in delivery options
                                                                                                • Figure 39: Factors for product decision, by location, 2021
                                                                                            • Influence of Price

                                                                                              • Rise in prices isn’t always a deterrent when shopping sustainably
                                                                                                • Figure 40: Willingness to pay extra, 2021
                                                                                              • Ability to pay more doesn’t always equate to willingness to pay more
                                                                                                • Figure 41: Willingness to pay extra, by HHI, 2021
                                                                                              • Younger consumers are open to opening their wallets for the environment
                                                                                                • Figure 42: Willingness to pay extra, by generation, 2021
                                                                                              • Opportunity for higher prices, givebacks exist across categories
                                                                                                • Figure 43: Kashi Certified Transitional food program, 2021
                                                                                                • Figure 44: Pottery Barn environmental efforts displayed on Instagram, 2021
                                                                                                • Figure 45: Bite provides History of Plastic education, 2021
                                                                                                • Figure 46: Willingness to pay extra, by category, 2021
                                                                                            • The Role of Brands in Sustainability Online

                                                                                              • Brands enable consumers to shop better, be more sustainable
                                                                                                • Figure 47: Attitudes toward sustainability – Brands’ role, 2021
                                                                                              • Consumers have much concern around packaging, waste
                                                                                                • Figure 48: Areas of sustainability focus for brands, 2021
                                                                                              • Hispanic consumers want guidance on their packaging disposal
                                                                                                • Figure 49: Areas of sustainability focus for brands, by Hispanic ethnicity, 2021
                                                                                            • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                                                              • Data sources
                                                                                                • Consumer survey data
                                                                                                  • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                    • Abbreviations
                                                                                                      • Terms
                                                                                                      • Appendix – The Consumer

                                                                                                          • Figure 50: Areas of sustainability focus for brands, by race, 2021

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