Research from Digital Business Ireland shows that while many businesses are embracing eco-friendly practices, consumers remain somewhat ambivalent

Despite common perceptions it is the 55+ age group that most considers sustainability when making online purchases

Less than one in every five consumers always consider sustainability when shopping online, according to recent Digital Insights research, commissioned by Ireland’s leading representative body for the sector, Digital Business Ireland. The research issued today was carried out by Ireland Thinks, and is based on a nationally representative sample, collected from a pool of over 30,000 panellists.

As part of the survey, participants were asked how often, if ever, they consider sustainability when shopping online. The findings were assessed across a broad range of demographics – gender, income level, age and regional distribution. Overall, the research highlights the disparity between businesses’ ambitions and public attitudes. While many SMEs throughout Ireland are pivoting their operations to embrace environmentally friendly practices, consumers remain somewhat ambivalent – highlighting the pressing need for a more strategic approach from Government and industry in encouraging sustainable shopping habits among the general public.

Among its key findings, the Digital Insights research showed that, in 2022:
● 19% of consumers always consider the sustainability credentials of the businesses they buy from, when shopping online
● While 25% of those aged 55+ prioritise sustainability when purchasing goods online, just 17% of respondents aged 18 – 24 reported the same
● On the issue of gender, 28% of men reported that they had never considered sustainability when shopping online, compared to just 18% of women who noted the same
● While more than a third (37%) of those earning less than 5k always prioritise sustainability when buying goods and/or services online, just 6% of participants earning over 80k do the same

Overall, the research indicates the emergence of an indifferent attitude or lack of awareness towards sustainability among consumers, and suggests that while many Irish businesses have been proactive in championing sustainability, the communication of their message has yet to filter down to their customer base. Digital Business Ireland’s research aligns closely with wider societal trends; with a recent poll indicating that just 15% of the population consider Climate Change to be a priority issue.

While consumer education and enthusiasm for sustainability is lagging, Digital Business Ireland believes that SMEs have the potential to be at the forefront of encouraging sustainable online shopping. The representative body’s A Guide to Becoming a Sustainable Business devised in conjunction with Sustainability Works, and launched by Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Damien English T.D., offered advice on best practice for businesses looking to enhance their sustainability credentials. While businesses can help to drive the cultural shift towards sustainability among consumers, the Digital Insights research highlights the need for strategic national awareness campaigns, aimed at educating customers on the importance of sustainable shopping, while removing some of the cost barriers associated with purchasing environmentally-friendly products, and introducing targeted incentives to encourage the same.

Speaking today, Secretary General of Digital Business Ireland, Lorraine Higgins said: “Over the last number of years, Irish businesses have been at the forefront of sustainable innovation, with many seizing the growth opportunities associated with eco-friendly practices and reconfiguring their packaging, products and partnerships. In addition, Irish entrepreneurs have a high level of awareness as to the crucial nature of the climate agenda, and the implications of adopting a sustainable mindset in all aspects of their operations. At present, this enthusiasm is not being matched by consumers, who do not deem it to be a priority consideration, when shopping online”.

“Our research highlights the pressing need to bridge the gap between businesses’ ambitions and public attitudes. We need a dedicated national campaign that quantifies the value to consumers of shopping sustainably online, and offers incentives to those who purchase environmentally-friendly products and services. The heightened costs associated with buying sustainably are often identified as a deterrent by consumers – but we know that while this may be the case in the short term, creating greater demand will ultimately allow businesses to reduce their costs over time”.

Rose O’Donovan, Chairperson of the Digital Business Ireland CSR & Sustainability Committee said: “Every single business has the potential to benefit from the commercial opportunities that embracing eco-friendly practices bring – and equally, for consumers, buying from sustainable businesses helps to protect the planet. Our Digital Insights research shows that consumer enthusiasm for sustainability is currently low – but this should only act as a catalyst for all of us to do more”.

“Across Government, industry and society, we have ambitious plans and targets to reduce carbon emissions and invest in a sustainable future. A core element of this is encouraging consumers across the country to carefully consider the environmental credentials of the businesses that they purchase from. Now, more than ever, we need a dedicated national awareness campaign on the importance of shopping sustainably, as well as Government-led incentives to remove some of the cost barriers associated with buying sustainable products. Businesses are investing – and now, it’s time for consumers to respond”.

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