For the latest in consumer and industry news, top trends and market perspectives, stay tuned to Mintel News featuring commentary from Mintel's team of global category analysts.

As Canadians gear up to celebrate Earth Day (April 22), new research from Mintel reveals that consumers struggle with what ‘sustainability’ actually means and what actions are truly impactful. While seven in 10 (71%) Canadians agree that they are ‘sustainable consumers*’ and 82% acknowledge that their choices have an impact on global sustainability, 83% say it’s hard to always know what is the most sustainable choice. What’s more, over a third (35%) say they generally ignore/tune out sustainability messaging. 

For the overwhelming majority of Canadians, ‘environmental protection’ (61%) is what comes to mind when hearing the word ‘sustainability’ and they are prepared to take action: Canadians agree the most impactful decision/action one can take to improve sustainability is to reduce waste (61%) and 81% agree plastic grocery bags have a large negative impact on the environment. Nearly four in five (78%) say they have recycled at home, and three-quarters (76%) have used reusable shopping bags at the grocery store, in the last 6 months. 

Lower down on Canadians’ list of impactful sustainable actions are driving less (29%), investing in a more efficient home (22%), eating less meat (20%) and using ‘all-natural’ products (17%). Similarly, less than a quarter of Canadians have changed their diet (23%) or driven an eco-friendly vehicle (10%) in the last six months.

All in all, Canadians are looking to companies and brands to lead the charge to create a more sustainable future: 43% say companies/corporations are the most responsible for improving sustainability, compared to 28% who say individuals/consumers are the most responsible and 26% who say the same of governments. What’s more, 81% of Canadians want businesses to provide information about the carbon footprint of their products and three in five (63%) say they’d like to be able to immediately offset the carbon footprint of a purchase.

Scott Stewart, Associate Director, Lifestyle & Leisure, at Mintel said:

“Given that most Canadians consider themselves to be sustainable consumers and concerns surrounding sustainability are on the rise, companies and brands can confidently roll out sustainability strategies knowing that consumers are receptive. Even among the third of Canadians who say they generally tune out sustainability messaging, it points to white space where brands can fill the gap. 

“The challenge will be finding the best way to do so. Most consumers want to be sustainable, yet do not want to make major sacrifices. And there is still a lot of confusion around the topic, meaning education and guidance are necessary. Companies have an opportunity to be leaders by making sustainable consumption simple to implement and easy to understand. Transparency will be welcomed by Canadians who acknowledge that they need help to fully understand the impact of their consumption.”

Consumers are happy with their sustainability actions 

The majority (65%) of consumers say they are satisfied with the amount of sustainable action they are taking (ie they feel it is the appropriate amount), including 73% of men aged 18-34 and 64% of women aged 65+. However, whether or not that translates into a positive impact is another story given that 35% of Canadians would rather spend money to support sustainability than change their behaviour, including 57% of men aged 18-34. Even among those who do want to change their behaviours, there is a clear pattern that shows they want to make minimal sacrifices.

The most common sustainable actions that consumers are taking are those that are easy and convenient. Like recycling, the fact that most Canadians bring reusable bags to the grocery store is reflective of how easy it is to make that behaviour change. Larger sustainability commitments like reducing meat consumption or switching to an electric vehicle see a lot fewer consumers willing to make a change. And, oftentimes, consumers are more willing to spend money on sustainability measures rather than make any changes at all to their lifestyle. 

“This is illustrative of the kinds of solutions that consumers want to engage in to feel like they are doing their part without drastically changing their behaviour and points to opportunities for brands to better meet consumer needs by offering them the sustainable solutions they are looking for with minimal effort on their part,” concluded Stewart.

Additional research on Canadian sustainability trends and interviews with the analyst are available upon request from the Mintel Press Office

*Asked ‘Do you agree or disagree with the phrase: I am a sustainable consumer (ie I make consciously sustainable purchase decisions)?’