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Survey Says Consumers Looking to Companies for Sustainability Efforts

July 23, 2020
Customers focus on prioritizing purchasing decisions based on companies' sustainability efforts.

A lot of things have changed due to the pandemic and one of them is the demand by customers to ensure their apparel is environmentally sustainable.

A recent global survey by the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol shows 54% of sustainability leaders at apparel and textile brands say they’ve seen their customers’ demands for environmentally sustainable practices and products increase since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And 59% said they believe customers will still continue to prioritize price when making purchases.

The survey found that 43% of respondents believe COVID-19 has had a positive impact on investments in sustainability efforts during this period, while 40% believe it has had a negative impact.

Likewise, they believe their customers are facing the same struggle between their pocketbooks and the environmental concerns -- when asked to rank how they believe customers will prioritize their purchases in the next year, respondents ranked the top two priorities as “Getting the best possible deal” and “Brand or retailer alignment with their personal values.”

“It’s clear that COVID-19 has caused economic challenges up and down the supply chain, but this survey shows that companies and their customers remain focused on sustainability,” says Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said that their customers’ demands for more environmentally sustainable practices and products has “significantly” or “somewhat” increased since the beginning of the pandemic, and 42% said that those customers are also more vocal in those demands.

Almost half of all respondents seemed to believe that their customers are more likely to hold them accountable at the register for those actions – almost half (48%) said they believed customers would switch brands if their company didn’t meet its sustainability commitments.

While some (9%) report pausing most or all sustainability initiatives due to COVID-19, most companies continue to focus their sustainability efforts on manufacturing (25%), sourcing of raw materials (25%), or traceability (11%).

Geographic Difference

COVID-19’s impact on companies’ investments in sustainability initiatives differs drastically by market – North American respondents are least likely to invest, where only 26% of respondents believe COVID-19 has had a positive impact on sustainability investments at their company.

While in Europe, six out of 10 (63%) respondents said the pandemic has had a positive impact on their company’s sustainability efforts, and in Asia, 46% of respondents said they believe there have been increases in proactive investments in sustainability initiatives.

With Asian-European sustainability initiatives benefiting from the impacts of COVID-19, market-specific conditions may play a larger role in the future of sustainability than global factors.

Increasing Traceability

​Many companies are looking for ways to buoy their sustainability programs through the pandemic – focused on holding the course with increased help of outside partnerships (62%) until they can afford to reinvest in big new innovations.

Meanwhile, they are increasingly focused on improving the transparency in environmental reporting (59%); improving sustainability in sourcing (63%), and aligning with external sustainability standards or protocols for their existing programs (59%).

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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