Global consumer concerns over climate change and food shortages escalate

Climate change, water and food shortages have made the most significant strides as priority concerns in the past 12 months as extreme weather events and the war in Ukraine make more respondents familiar with these unfortunate realities. Consequently, less impactful issues (in terms of emissions generated and immediate threat to wellbeing) like plastic pollution and waste, in general, have decreased, but only slightly. 

Consumer fears over climate change have intensified globally over the last year. New research from the 2022 Mintel Consulting Sustainability Barometer reveals that the number of global consumers citing climate change as a top three environmental concern has risen from an average of 39%, to 46% between 2021 and 2022. 

Mintel’s research finds that concern over water shortages (up to 31% in 2022 from 27% in 2021) and food shortages (up to 23% in 2022 from 17% in 2021) have also made the biggest gains in terms of environmental priorities in the past twelve months as extreme weather events and the conflict in Ukraine evidence these realities. 

Climate change remains the world’s highest environmental priority with nearly half (46%) of the respondents citing it among their top three concerns. Air quality (36%) and plastic pollution (33%) round out the world’s top three environmental concerns. However, concerns about plastic pollution are down from 36% in 2021. 

Rising awareness is evident as approximately three in five (58%) consumers globally agree that extreme weather events (eg, flooding, heatwaves) in the country where they live encourage them to personally do more activities to protect the environment. Subsequently, it seems helping the planet brings with it a ‘feel-good factor’ as 68% of consumers globally say doing things that benefit the environment makes them feel happy. Unsurprisingly, social media comes into play as Mintel finds that 38% say they want to ‘show other people’ how they are doing good for the environment. Another 24% say they have researched their annual carbon footprint. 

Although environmental priorities have shifted in the last year, Mintel reports that consumers’ sustainable behaviours remain focused on simplicity and frugality. For instance, recycling packaging (59% in 2022 versus 60% in 2021), meal planning to avoid food waste (53% in 2022 vs 52% in 2021) and reducing clothes buying (50% in 2022 vs 52% in 2021) remain the top global sustainable behaviours in 2022 and 2021. Global consumers’ optimism is essentially flat with 55% believing that if we act now, we still have time to save the planet, compared with 54% who said the same last year. 

Commenting on the findings, Richard Cope, senior trends consultant, Mintel Consulting, said, 

“The fact that concerns around climate change and water and food shortages are being prioritised ahead of previous preoccupations with waste and plastic pollution points towards the emergence of a more informed and hardened global consumer. Soaring temperatures, extreme weather events and disruptions to food, water and energy supply chains have given consumers a harsh reality check, hurting their health and wallets, and activating them in the process.” 

He added that escalating activism, regulatory reaction and the sheer scale of the challenges ahead and solutions required have educated global consumers enough to sniff out greenwashing campaigns. “This means companies will increasingly need to assert – and clearly communicate – the truly impactful actions they are taking to reduce emissions, rather than simply offset them or dip their toes into populist ‘plastic free’ campaigns,” explained Cope. “This growing awareness around resource inputs and emission and waste outputs will also spell the end for ‘environmentally friendly’ as a credible marketing term.” 

Noting that most consumers surveyed continue to see recycling and mitigating waste as important sustainable behaviours, Cope said, “This tells us that simple, frugal behaviours are the most popular among consumers, which underlines the fact that brands’ sustainability initiatives need to deliver on value and convenience.” 

Looking ahead to 2023, Mintel expects to see resource (food, water, money) conservation ascend higher up the agenda, and the use of economising technology refurbishers and urban peer access sharing economies to grow. “For consumers, the connections between saving the environment, its resources and their money will strengthen,” shared Cope. 

The second annual Mintel Consulting Sustainability Barometer features research and insight on consumers’ sustainability attitudes, behaviours and purchase preferences across 16 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The April 2022 survey included 1,000 internet users aged 16/18+ compared with 500 internet users aged 16/18+ surveyed in March 2021 with Indonesia and Mexico replaced by Poland and Ireland.

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