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Sustainable practices in business are now more important than ever as we’re seeing that many corporations largely contribute to environmental and social problems, such as climate change, pollution, or underpaid workers. Consumers are increasingly researching and supporting companies that align with their own ethics and values whilst doing their shopping. It seems, therefore, that many people are changing their buying habits by going green. 

Sustainable business practices

Sustainable business practices are designed to limit the negative impact that companies may have on the environment and society. Sustainable actions may include reducing waste, adopting sustainable business travel policies, diversity in the workplace, and fair labour. Sustainability software may help organisations to manage each of these areas of business.

Are consumers all over the world more environmentally conscious than ever before? Has this changed throughout the COVID-19 era? Capterra surveyed nearly 1,000 consumers in Australia to see how they feel about sustainable practices, in particular environmental sustainability. We look at how important a company’s sustainable actions are to Aussies and how this affects their decisions when purchasing products and certain brands. The full survey methodology can be found at the bottom of this article.

96% of Australians are familiar with the concept of sustainability

Capterra’s survey results show that most Aussies generally have a high awareness of sustainability. A combined total of 96% of participants say they ‘definitely’ know the meaning of sustainability (54%) or are ‘a bit familiar’ with it (42%).

Conscious consumerism

Sometimes referred to as ethical consumerism, the conscious consumer focuses on making positive and informed decisions on what they buy. They like to buy from companies that manufacture energy-efficient products, promote health and wellness traits, and support fair trade and workers’ rights. An example of conscious consumerism is buying less and only when necessary, which can help to reduce waste. Sustainable companies may use biodegradable refills and packaging to combat this.

In 2021, the concept of “conscious consumerism” is continuing to grow, meaning shoppers like to research a company before buying their product. Nowadays, consumers are leaning more toward ethical products that are local, eco-friendly, and made from sustainable materials. According to F&P magazine ‘Conscious consumers are defined as those who look “beyond the label to examine the company behind it”. They’re interested in the company’s footprint, as well as the products, and understand their purchasing power.’

When we asked survey respondents whether they check if products are sustainable before purchasing them, 49% said they check the packaging, 42% look at the ingredients, and 43% research the origin of the product. Only 24% said they do not check anything before buying.

AU Checking sustainable products bar graph

Sustainability actions of a company heavily influence how consumers choose products 

A combined total of 61% of Australians say that the sustainability actions of a company or brand have a ‘moderate influence’ (46%) or ‘very much influences’ (15%) whether they buy a product or not. Only 10% of consumers say sustainability practices have no influence at all. 

Respondents seem to find sustainability more important in some areas than others. 65% of people surveyed say that they consider sustainability measures most important in the purchasing of food and drink products. Australia’s National Science Agency predicts that — thanks to the growing interest in healthy and sustainable lifestyles — the food and agribusiness sector could be worth up to $25 billion by 2030. The Queensland government also notes that there is a growing demand for healthy foods, biodegradable packaging, and organic and whole foods .

60% of Aussie consumers care about the sustainable practices that fashion brands use when producing and distributing clothing. This may be impacted by the recent controversy and publicity surrounding the concept of fast fashion. Fast fashion is the cycle of cheap clothing being mass-produced by market retailers, worn only a few times by consumers, and thrown out before it ends up being disposed of in landfills. 

The use of eco-friendly vehicles, such as electric and hybrid cars is also important to Australians (42% of respondents), as well as the growing demand for beauty and wellness products that use natural ingredients and are ethically made (38%).

AU main types of important sustainable products bar chart

The majority of Aussies have changed their buying habits during the pandemic

We asked survey respondents about some of the reasons why sustainability practices may influence how they shop. Consumers want to:

  • Support local produce and products
  • Choose a company that cares about its carbon footprint
  • Feel like they are doing their part in helping the environment
  • Help sustainable companies
  • Acknowledge concerns about the future of the planet

The COVID-19 crisis has also had an effect on conscious consumerism. 73% of Aussies admit to reassessing the way they buy since the pandemic started. 48% of these respondents say the change in the way they shop is drastic and that they ‘want to be more conscious and introduce more sustainable products into their purchases’.

Consumers may be more aware of their buying behaviours because the pandemic has forced many people to work from home and to live under lockdown rules, perhaps allowing for more time to research products. The pandemic itself may have heightened consumers’ concerns around environmental issues such as climate change, which also brings to light the carbon footprint of the businesses they buy from. 

AU Consumers buying habits during pandemic bar char

70% of Aussie consumers believe the price of sustainable products is fair 

Eco-friendly products can be more expensive than conventional versions. This may be due to the quality of raw materials that companies source and use and the products being more difficult to make. In some cases, the cost of sustainable products might be marked up, but despite this, the demand for eco products is still increasing globally.

A combined total of 70% of Capterra’s survey respondents believe that the price of sustainable products, in general, is fair. In comparison, a total of only 30% of Aussie consumers find the price of sustainable products unfair.

When asked how much more they would be willing to pay for sustainable products compared to traditional products across five categories (transport and delivery, food and drink, clothing, beauty and wellness, and household products), the majority of consumers consistently said 10% more.

AU How much Aussies will pay for sustainable products bar chart

Reducing plastic use is the sustainable practice that matters most to Aussie consumers

Some sustainable actions are more important than others to those who were surveyed by Capterra. 65% of consumers said that reducing plastic consumption is something they are most concerned about. The Australian government is also highly concerned and says: ‘It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight.’

The government has released its big National Plastics Plan, which aims to significantly cut back on the use and production of plastic over the coming years. The government, industry, and community are all expected to play a part in the initiative.

As well as reducing plastic pollution, survey respondents say that the following environmental and social actions are also important to them:

  • 52% say reducing emissions matters
  • 45% buy from a company with social and professional fair and equal conditions
  • 43% of consumers prefer to buy fair-trade products
  • 25% think buying local products is most important
  • 18% of Capterra’s survey respondents like to buy second-hand products
  • 7% of respondents don’t find any of these actions important 

But do consumers feel that they can trust the intentions of sustainable companies and the actions they take? Nearly half of all Australians surveyed (47%) believe that companies really want to make a difference when advocating for sustainability.

However, 32% of respondents think that the goal of companies using sustainable practices is to promote their products and their actions are purely for marketing and PR purposes. This is known as greenwashing.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company spends time and money on marketing and falsely advertising its product as being “green” and eco-friendly. For example, a company may claim that its product is made from recycled materials, which may only be partly true or is an exaggeration. Corporations may use greenwashing as an opportunity to capitalise on the increasing demand for environmentally friendly goods.

Australian employees value sustainability in the workplace

Sustainability practices in the work environment also prove to be very important to Australians. 60% of those surveyed by Capterra say their company has sustainable measures in place. In comparison, 19% say that their employer does not take sustainable action. 21% of employees admit they are not sure if their organisation has gone green, which may highlight a lack of sustainable practices or poor communication within the company.

88% of respondents whose employers implement sustainable measures focus on environmental issues. These include waste reduction, prevention of pollution, adopting clean energy, and the use of sustainable materials for products. 53% of businesses also focus on social problems, such as health and social equity, labour rights, diversity and inclusion, and decent working conditions.

Software for sustainability

No matter what area of sustainability a company chooses to focus its attention on, software packages can aid with sustainable action plans. Environmental management software can help companies manage their impact on the environment and promote social responsibility. Sustainability tools enable businesses to track and manage their carbon emission and energy consumption data, meaning they can save on energy bills.

Risk management software may help users to identify and assess high-impact risks across the organisation. Businesses are able to register and monitor environmental incidents, indicators, and targets. Companies may also use software to track and record their own impact on the environment.

For companies who like to give back to the community, whether that’s with donations or grants, fundraising software can help with corporate giving. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace is also hugely important for sustainability and recruitment software can help ensure D&I in the hiring process.

Key takeaways

  • Both consumers and employees care about the sustainability practices that a company has in place.
  • Aussie consumers think it is important to check the packaging of a product they are thinking of buying to see if it is green.
  • Most Aussies find the price of sustainable products fair but would be willing to pay 10% more, particularly on transport and delivery, closely followed by food and drink.
  • More than half of those surveyed by Capterra say their company has sustainable measures in place, which focus more on environmental sustainability. 
  • Various software packages are available to help companies to achieve their sustainability goals, whether they are more environmentally or socially oriented. 

Without a doubt, business sustainability practices are in growing demand by employees and, in turn, are being noticed by consumers. In the next article in this two-part series, Capterra looks at the importance of corporate sustainabilty to both SMEs and employees.

Looking for sustainability software? Check out our catalogue.

Survey methodology:

To collect the data for this report, we conducted an online survey in July 2021. Of the total respondents, we were able to identify 995 Australian respondents that fit within our criteria:

  • Australian resident
  • Over 18 years-old
  • Employed full-time or part-time