Sustainability in Purchasing Becomes Standard

Sustainability in purchasing is now important to the majority of customers in Germany. For two-thirds of those under 35, this is a decisive factor in their purchasing decision. This is the result of a recent representative PwC online survey.

6 out of 10 consumers always or often pay attention to ecological, economic or social balance in their purchasing decisions, according to a representative PwC survey of 1,000 Germans. Among those under 35, the issue of sustainability plays an even greater role. Specifically, they look at animal welfare, packaging, recycling, the supply chains and compliance with human rights in production.

Under what conditions are the cows kept whose milk I drink? Does the manufacturer of my new T-shirt tolerate child labor? Does the retailer I trust treat employees and business partners fairly? These are the kinds of questions the majority of Germans ask themselves before making a purchasing decision, according to the results of the survey.

„Sustainability has become mainstream in recent years. It has long been a must for companies to pay attention to sustainability in their supply chains,“ explains Dr. Christian Wulff, Head of Retail and Consumer Goods at PwC Germany.

Recyclable materials are in demand

Sustainability encompasses various aspects in the three areas of environment, social and sustainable governance (ESG). In the case of environmental sustainability, for example, the focus is on issues relating to animal welfare – such as the conditions in which animals are kept or animal testing – and the use of recyclable materials. 40 percent of Germans would like to be informed about this before making a purchase. How closely consumers look at sustainability also depends on the product: for example, sustainability is particularly important to them when it comes to food. 81 percent of Germans pay attention to at least one of the three ESG criteria when buying food, i.e., environmental, social or good corporate governance. But these criteria are also relevant when buying textiles: As many as 63 percent say they look at how sustainably the item was produced when buying clothing or shoes. While environmental aspects play the biggest role for food (62 percent), consumers are paying more attention to social aspects for clothing, shoes and accessories (52 percent).

Clear trend 

The growing importance of ESG aspects in the purchasing behavior of German consumers is also evidenced by the shifts toward buying sustainable products. The trend toward sustainable products is clearest in food: 45 percent of respondents say they have consciously switched to more sustainable products within the past two years. By contrast, only 17 percent admit to switching (back) to less sustainable products, with one in three citing a lack of financial resources as the reason.

For just under half of those surveyed, a possible switch to more sustainable products would be supported by better availability in stationary retail. Legal regulations are also seen as helpful, both in terms of product labeling (38 percent) and for the production process (37 percent). Likewise, more attention-grabbing product placement in stores would help (37 percent).

Consumers‘ need for transparency in ESG matters is pronounced: According to the survey, almost three quarters of Germans inform themselves at least occasionally about ecological sustainability issues. To meet this need for information, Wulff advises manufacturers and retailers to provide detailed information about ESG aspects of products, particularly online. „Keeping the associated, significantly increasing flood of data up to date at all times is increasingly becoming a challenge for companies that can only be solved by significant investment in new technologies,“ says the PwC expert.

The consumers surveyed agree on what companies can do to lend more credibility to their sustainability activities: A good two-thirds consider recognized sustainability seals, certifications or independently audited sustainability reports to be suitable for credibly communicating activities in terms of ESG.