Despite COVID-19 distracting us from being keep-cup-carrying, recycling, op-shopping conscious consumers, new research has shown that Australians want Corporate Australia to contribute more to society.
Before COVID-19, we had campaigned against plastic straws, banned single use plastic bags and owned a covetable collection of keep cups. But when the pandemic hit and we had to put our health and safety first, being a conscious consumer took a back seat. Or so it seemed it did.
We had to embrace takeaway cups and containers to continue to support local businesses; wear disposable masks and gloves to keep each other safe and carry tiny plastic bottles of sanitiser everywhere we went.
But new research released by BePartnerReady.com and Di Marzio Research has revealed that despite all the distractions and concern over unemployment and the economy, the conscious consumer is still among us, quietly championing for renewable energy and people over profit, and demanding more from Corporate Australia.
In a world where Jeff Bezos’s net worth surpassed US$200 billion during the pandemic, while others struggle with reduced pay, hours, job losses, or businesses closing, consumers are acutely aware of the power they have in persuading businesses to play a significant role in shaping society for the better.
“During COVID-19, consumers have reflected on the kind of world they want to live in, and realised that the most powerful weapons they have to create positive social change are their voices (through petitioning and campaigning on social media), and their wallets,” says Hailey Cavill-Jaspers, author of the report titled The Conscious Consumer era arrives. Finally.
Who is the conscious consumer?
Conscious consumers are defined as those who look “beyond the label to examine the company behind it”. They’re interested in the company’s footprint, as well as the products, and understand their purchasing power.
They yield their power to:
- Support companies that align with their ethics and values
- Purchase brands that are more sustainable and have less environmental impact
- Buy Australian and locally made
- Invest in companies with strong ethics and values
- Back companies that recycle, use green energy and minimise waste
- Switch to brands that partner with and support charities
- Actively promote and recommend favourite companies and brands to family, friends and social media followers
But this also means that they will actively boycott companies that contradict their ethics and values, do harm to people, animals or the planet, or are deceptive or misleading – and voice this disapproval to their circles.
While millennials have led this movement in the past, surprisingly, the report has found that Gen X and Baby Boomers have stepped up to embrace their warrior consumer identity (Go Boomers!). The report found a fairly unanimous sentiment across all generations – conscious consumerism is now a mainstream attitude driving consumer behaviour. Watch out, Corporate Australia!
Voting with your wallet
As our worlds become smaller and locally-centred, consumers are voting with their wallets, choosing to support companies – and by the same token, not support companies – based on their behaviour. The report revealed that consumers are not afraid to exercise their power. A third have actively boycotted a company or brand in the past year due to its poor social responsibility. Over a quarter have actively switched brands because of its support of a charity in the past year, and almost half say they plan to switch brands supporting a charity in the coming year.
Interestingly, this is up from 2017’s results jumping from 14% saying ‘yes’ to 28% saying ‘yes’ in 2020. Respondents this year, across all generations, were also comfortable with choosing to purchase products or services that support a cause or charity over ones that don’t.
What do we want? More out of CSR! When do we want it? Now!
Over the last few years, Corporate Australia has been coming to the table on meaningful social issues from marriage equality to Closing the Gap. Whether consumers view this move into Corporate Social Responsibility genuine or not, it’s clear there are still expectations for corporates to “play a significant role in solving social problems”.
In fact, almost half of Australians feel let down by Corporate Australia in meeting its overall obligations to enhance society. This sentiment was slightly higher amongst Gen Y and Gen Z.
For the first time in a decade, all generations agreed (69%) that in a recession, corporates should definitely be doing more to solve societal problems, and they believed that one way to do this was to partner with charities. Good news for the nonprofit sector!
Interestingly, while two-thirds believe Corporate Australia (of all the institutions) has the greatest potential to solve societal problems, there is still a healthy amount of cynicism when it comes to corporate social responsibility. Many respondents (61%) felt that companies were just ticking a box and using PR spin, and that underneath it all, they only cared about profit. So it seems that corporates need to do more meaningful genuine activities to live up to consumer expectations and break through this scepticism.
How can the nonprofit sector benefit?
As consumers push corporates to recognise their societal performance as a measurement of success alongside their financial results, there’s a large charity-sized gap waiting to be filled. Who understands how to make genuine and sustainable positive change quite like the nonprofit sector?
As the report points out, there is a real opportunity for nonprofits to help corporates live up to consumer expectations, despite being in a recession. Identify which industries have been hit the hardest and which are thriving. Look within our own backyard as consumers begin to shift to a local mindset. And understand that recessions often stimulate great innovation, (hello Uber and Airbnb!) so keep your eye on future opportunities.
“More than ever non-profits must clearly articulate the problem they solve and demonstrate they’re professional and adaptable, because this is what corporates and brands will be seeking, along with mutual benefit,” says Cavill-Jaspers.
Work on your own proposition: Do you know your charity’s outcomes and impact? Can you sell this to a corporate? What value do you bring to the table? Now is the time to upskill and sharpen your elevator pitch and play a part in reshaping the role of business in the community.