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Not the Year Ahead: Sustainability

With or without a pandemic, conscious consumers are still calling for changes that will help them make better purchasing decisions in line with their values, writes Georgina Wilson-Powell, Founder of pebble.

Georgina Wilson-Powell, pebble

Journalist, Editor, Publisher & Founder

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2020 has been a really mixed year. In some ways I feel more energised than I did a year ago, in others, we are still pushing hard to see changes that are needed for a better world.

With or without a pandemic, conscious consumers are still calling for changes that will help them make better purchasing decisions in line with their values. One of these is the need for more transparency around sustainable items. For example, a brand could use recycled fibers in its clothing but have questionable supply chains or unethical labour, there’s rarely any way of knowing. 

An emerging trend I have seen is new apps and tech platforms using blockchain ledgers to register each part of the process used to create items. This way, shoppers can scan something and see where it comes from, what it is made of. It’s niche for now, but it would be a great help.

The pandemic has also changed how we buy things like clothes. There’s less need to be competitive about outfits for work, people aren’t making lunchtime impulse purchases and we are wearing items more often and for longer. All of these habits are hopefully something we will continue now that we know it is feasible.

84% say brands aren't doing enough to tackle sustainability.

Pebble Magazine X Telltale Research

Be clear about the eco credentials

More generally, it’s still harder to find sustainable items than you might find non-sustainable options on the high street. The tipping point will be when sustainable brands are more well-known. There are some websites that are working on bringing eco brands together, but they’re not as popular as something like ASOS. Whoever cracks that will have it made. People need to know where to look and what brands to look for and there isn't widespread market penetration yet for sustainable fashion brands. 

While so many people are looking for eco alternatives, the pandemic has put extra strictures on spending. There’s uncertainty around employment and people are being more careful with their money, something that is likely to continue through next year. While budgets are tight, shoppers are being careful about what they spend, wanting to buy less and to purchase things that last longer.

There’s many sides to this though and while people must shop for what they need with tighter budgets, they’re also going to turn to cheaper products or rely on fast fashion. While people are facing financial issues, we’re not going to see an instant flip over to eco shopping. This is why existing brands need to be clear about their eco credentials and offer more to consumers so they can make simpler choices at the right prices. 84% of people say that brands are not doing enough to tackle sustainability and 67% say they're happy to pay more for sustainable brands, so there’s a clear market for this if brands are willing to invest.

Investing in the future

Another trend that has been great to see is people asking us at pebble about personal finance, investment and pensions. They want to know what their banks are investing in and that they can put their money in places that don’t invest in fossil fuels or fracking.

More widely, people are starting to question institutions and systems, asking for structural change. It’s no longer enough putting recycling in the bin and buying some sustainable Christmas socks. People want the organisations around us to show they are doing the work so that we can have a deeper connection with structural changes.

People want to learn more about brands and how their products are made. News stories like the BooHoo supply chain scandal might seem to be just one example, but they open up people’s minds to considering more about where things come from and how. Consumers are no longer up for greenwashing campaigns that last a few weeks, they want to see a long term, authentic and well communicated commitment from brands and businesses.

67% say they're happy to pay more for sustainable brands.

Pebble Magazine X Telltale Research

It’s tricky

Being eco-conscious is not easy. During the pandemic, we gave up flying but embraced cars, recycling labels are confusing, recycling policies are local, not national, there’s no consistent code for sustainable clothing and of course for now, people are not keen on using public transport. But highlighting this complexity is useful and there are places where people can learn. We are a resource for all of this at pebble.

While people get a handle on complexity, there is more on offer in supermarkets that shows some brands are listening and making it easier for us to make choices. So many brands are cutting plastics and that’s great to see, whether it’s smaller packages for food or eco cleaning companies that deliver refills direct to home.

There is a risk that it’s too easy to say we have turned a corner. When money is tight next year, people will still be making choices based on price and convenience but there is a pressure on brands to be greener, to be responsible. Even investment funds are taking an interest in brands that are making environmentally conscious decisions. Over time, the brands that make these changes at their core are the ones that will be market leaders in the years ahead.

Guest Author

Georgina Wilson-Powell, pebble

Journalist, Editor, Publisher & Founder

About

Journalist, editor and publisher Georgina Wilson-Powell, is the UK’s number one consumer sustainability expert on what our mass consumption is doing to the planet and the importance of how we can all make ‘small’ changes at home to really make a difference. She’s the founder and editor of pebble, the leading online sustainable living magazine, which gives tips on how to reduce overconsumption and live ethically by using positive storytelling in a bid to shift social attitudes about sustainable living. In her book ‘Is It Really Green?’, out in January 2021, Georgina cuts through the confusion to give you the facts to help make informed ethical decisions to reduce your ecological impact. Originally from Framlingham in Suffolk, Georgina has lived in Birmingham, London and Dubai but a year ago, Georgina and her partner Beth bought a do-er upper flat in Margate where they live with their cockapoo Maggie. And yes, they have refurbished their home with recycled material and second-hand furniture.

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