New York, NY, 13.12.2021

Environment skeptics are fading fast – replaced by a new breed of self-conscious eco-friendly consumers

In the age of Instagram and TikTok, there is a fine line between authentic action and self-conscious attention seeking. New research from GfK Consumer Life reveals that this blurring extends to environmental concern, with 39% of consumers saying that their activism is, in part, a status symbol.

The latest installment of the Green Gauge study – which has been tracking environmental concern and action globally for 11 years – shows that the proportion of “Glamour Greens” in the US has doubled since 2010, and rose 9 points in just the past year.

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By contrast, those who are often skeptical about green activism and concern are significantly less common today compared to a decade ago. These “Jaded” consumers represent just 22% of US consumers – roughly half the proportion seen in 2010 (38%).

These trends are being driven in part by generational patterns, with the percentage of young adults (ages 15 to 39) who qualify as “Glamour Greens” more than doubling since 2010. By contrast, just 12% of those 60+ belong to this group – up just three points since 2010.

The new GfK research also shows that nearly seven in 10 (69%) US consumers are pro-environment and in the market to buy sustainable goods – up 17 points since 2012. These Americans fall into one of three GfK categories, based on their beliefs and habits:

  • Glamour Green – display environmental concern and action and are eager to showcase their eco-friendly behaviors and purchases as status symbols
  • Green InDeed – the most active in environmental thought and action (11% of US population)
  • Carbon Cultured – pro-environment, but likely to focus mostly on “easy” behaviors (20% of US population)

Looking to GfK’s global Green Gauge research – tracking environmental actions and attitudes in 18 countries – we see that the Jaded segment dropped 11 percentage points on average worldwide since 2012. Only the UK recorded a larger percentage drop than the US in Jaded consumers, who fell from 44% to 23% of the UK population since 2012. And although the US level dropped 19 points, the country still has the 5th largest number of Jaded consumers as a proportion of its population across a consistent set of 18 countries tracked in the study.

GfK Green Gauge also shows that sustainability and environmental action are increasingly personal for consumers. In the US, “preserving the environment” ranks number 20 among 50 personal values measured – up from 23 in 2020 and 29 in 2014. Millennials and Gen Z are very clearly leading the charge in activism – considering the environment when making purchases, contributing to green causes, and doing environment-related volunteer work.

“The byproducts of climate change and environmental degradation are impacting individuals on a more personal and real basis,” said Tim Kenyon, Vice President at GfK Consumer Life and head of the GfK Green Gauge research program. “This is quickly loosening the resistance to environmental concern and giving way to an openness to behavior change – but people’s actions do not always match their words. For marketers, this means the sustainability narrative is clearly evolving. While many brands understand the basics, the Green Gauge report is a forward-leaning strategic playbook for sustainability.  Marketers can use this tool for connecting with their consumer targets, wherever they may sit on the sustainability spectrum.”

GfK Green Gauge® delivers an in-depth look into sustainability-related consumer trends, attitudes, and behaviors in over 20 countries. Now in its 30th year, Green Gauge combines up-to-date thinking with a historical view of consumers and environmental concern. Backed by the rich insights of GfK Consumer Life (formerly known as Roper Reports®), our study places sustainability in the broader landscape of consumer concerns and actions – showing how it fits within society’s other trends and forces.

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