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Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) starting this Sunday (31 October), the latest research from Mintel reveals that almost two thirds (63%) of Brits agree the conference is a great opportunity for all nations to commit to reducing the impact of climate change. This is closely followed by six in ten (61%) Americans, with Chinese consumers by far the most optimistic with 80% viewing the Conference as a great environmental opportunity.

The findings also show more than six in ten British (66%) and American (62%) consumers prefer that companies reduce their own carbon emissions rather than use ‘Carbon Offsetting’ programmes outside of their own area of business, a figure that rises to 80% of Chinese.

With a recent UN report concluding that fossil fuel production investment and usage are still rising, as many as half (52%) of Brits think that the country where they live should stop investing in fossil fuel energy (eg coal mines, gas extraction), markedly higher than the 43% of Americans.

Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant, Mintel Consulting, said:

“Current optimism around COP26 mirrors sentiment from the Mintel Sustainability Barometer* research conducted earlier in the year, revealing that the majority of consumers believe we still have time to save the planet and that they can have a positive personal impact through their own actions. Severe weather events and concerns about air quality during the COVID-19 pandemic have added to consumers’ hope for action rather than just pledges. People want tangible, local benefits they can see for themselves and this extends to cleaner air. So they’re demanding that companies cut their operational and distribution emissions, rather than focus on far off afforestation projects that may take longer to impact and potentially represent ‘greenwashing’ activities to distract from inaction. Our research shows that consumers want to support brands that are progressively changing the way they operate.”

Consumers happy to play their part for sustainability – but want help

While consumers are looking for companies to shoulder their share of responsibility, it seems they would like to be able to play a more informed role, as well as demand greater transparency. Nearly two thirds (64%) of Brits say it should be compulsory for food and drink companies to show how environmentally friendly a product is on the label, compared to just 56% of Americans; meanwhile, eight in ten (81%) Chinese consumers are in favour of this.

Finally, over half (55%) of Brits agree the more harmful a product’s production process is to the environment, the higher the price should be. This compares to just under half (48%) of US consumers and just over four in ten (43%) Chinese consumers.

Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant, Mintel Consulting, said:

“Consumers want to play their part in making a difference in an informed and convenient way. So, as with nutrition, on pack environmental labels are key, but they must deliver eco-scores or data using clear language and metrics that give comparative context for CO2, water savings or distance travelled against rival industry standards or rival products. At present this is voluntary, but government regulations might be needed to quicken the pace of action.

“Despite soaring household costs, more than half of Brits believe we should pay more for less environmentally friendly goods, acknowledging the significance of the danger of paying artificially low prices for commodities like energy (through fossil fuel subsidies) and food. This, theoretically, indicates a willingness to pay for a greener lifestyle through carbon taxes, but these would need to be conceived in a way so as not to disproportionately harm lower-income households. This will help prevent similar scenarios to what happened in France with the gilets jaunes movement in response to the heavily criticised fuel tax.

“While COP26 has caught consumers’ attention and will act as part of their education process when it comes to understanding the most pressing priorities and impactful decisions that they can make, there is still a large gap between intention and action on the part of companies. Brands can seize this as a zeitgeist moment to win their loyalty and partner with consumers to create long-term change, but the days are numbered for brands currently getting away with greenwashing.”

*The Mintel Sustainability Barometer features research and insight on consumers’ sustainability attitudes, behaviours, and purchase preferences across 16 countries, and offers recommendations for brands based on best-in-class innovations, communications, and campaigns.

Notes to editors:

2,000 consumer in the UK aged 16+ were surveyed between 28th September and 12th October

2,000 consumers in the US aged 18+ were surveyed between 2nd September and 15th September

3,000 consumers in China aged between 18-49 were surveyed between 26th August and 2nd September