Destination zero: The latest consumer trends around sustainability

Justine McCullagh / February 2020

In previous decades, marketing was about selling what you make, rather than making what the market wants to buy. Today, all marketing starts with an understanding of the consumer first, and tomorrow it will be about utilising the increasing amount of consumer data available to stay on top of rapid changes in consumer behaviour.

Successful marketers will be those who recognise this evolution of consumer behaviour quickly, and who are prepared to adapt (or experiment with) their marketing strategy. In the midst of considerable consumer change, it is the ability of challenger brands to adapt swiftly to evolutions in behaviour that is key to their success. If you don’t get under the skin of consumer change in real time you are making your brand vulnerable to more nimble competitors.

Which is why we conducted research to provide a complete picture of the U.K. CPG consumer today, and to get a unique perspective on the consumer of tomorrow. Understanding consumer change is a constant challenge for marketers, so we partnered with Kantar on a first-to-market approach that combines Google’s database of consumer intent with deep consumer research. We analysed search trends in the U.K., while Kantar employed qualitative research in the form of ethnographic consumer and expert interviews (along with some AI discovery) to understand the ‘why’ behind Britain’s search trends.

Across a landscape of shifting values we identified five trends which are manifesting in changes in consumer behaviour today and driving what consumers will look for tomorrow. The first trend we’re looking into is ‘destination zero’ and what that means for brands.

A changing geography of influence

Although sustainable living and purchasing is not a new idea, Google's search data shows just how mainstream this issue has become across the U.K.

It is no longer a London bubble led by urbanites. In fact Bristol and Brighton lead the way, and we see strong volume per capita growth of sustainability related searches across the nation, in both urban and rural areas, big cities and small.

Destination zero: The latest consumer trends around sustainability

We have observed a marked increase in sustainability-related searches in just the last 12 months alone, particularly for ‘zero waste’, which has grown 6X faster than ‘sustainability’ searches.1 Consumers are significantly more educated on this issue, and as a result they have rapidly increasing expectations of brands to be enabling the goals they have for changing their own behaviour.

Destination zero: The latest consumer trends around sustainability
Consumers will increasingly expect brands to forge the way towards destination zero.

The urge for businesses and the government to do more

However, the research also uncovered an underlying sense of consumer guilt at how cost and convenience are still large barriers to doing the right thing. Consumers feel a sense of helplessness and scepticism because businesses and the government aren’t doing enough.

One respondent (40-49-year-old) said: “As consumers, we all need to demand more from companies and governments. Ultimately, it should be a global effort and a conversation that leads to new laws and greater transparency from industry leaders. Not confusion and disinformation.”2

Brands should aim beyond destination zero and towards ‘net positive’

Mankind has reached a critical point, where finding new ways to exist is no longer optional, but an issue of survival. Our research shows that consumers will increasingly expect brands to forge the way towards “destination zero”, a world in which humankind has zero impact on the environment around us.3

What will be expected of brands in the future? The brand North Face provides climate-positive options for shoppers with its Cali Wool beanie that claims a net-negative carbon impact. The brand’s Climate BeneficialTM wool was sourced from Bare Ranch, which uses regenerative agricultural methods to sequester more carbon dioxide than is emitted.

In the future, “Generation Greta” will demand circular systems that meet their needs without further damage to people and the planet. Their expectations of a zero consumption system will progress to one that is holistically net positive, as they expect brands to have both environmental and social net positive impacts on the world.

In summary: What CPG brands should be thinking about:

  • How can you build circularity into your business model, whether that is reducing waste, using recycled & recyclable materials, or extending the product life cycle?
  • How can you ensure that your sustainability efforts aren’t interpreted as tokenism, but that they align strongly to your brand’s core values?
  • Money is no longer the only currency – is your brand prepared for the future consumer who will also be assessing the carbon or water units used to make your products?
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