The 2023 Kantar Better Futures report

By Nikki Wright

Cost of living crisis usurps climate change concerns

New Zealanders’ commitment to sustainability has been overshadowed by the pressures of the cost of living. These economic headwinds have impacted on consumers’ sustainability behaviours and purchases. With the cost of living increasing more than 8% for the average Kiwi household in 2022, affordability is currently the determining behaviour.

This is a major finding of the Better Futures report 2023, released by Kantar, in partnership with the Sustainable Business Council.

Seven out of ten respondents to the report named the cost of living as their primary concern – and nine out of ten also named it as the leading consideration when purchasing a good or service.

‘Eco-conscious choices’, ‘changing to a plant-based diet’, and ‘buying locally grown products’ all diminished between 2022 and 2023. 

Brands have a key role to play, not only in supporting Kiwis through the present conditions, but in ensuring they maintain momentum with their sustainability goals. Businesses are going to adopt a fighting spirit this year, meeting Kiwis where they are at, but continuing to move forward with climate action, as we have no time to waste.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The top concerns for New Zealanders since 2022 were: 1. The cost of living 2. Protection of NZ children 3. Crime levels.
  • On the whole, this year’s insights reveal an 11% decrease in the percentage of New Zealanders claiming to be highly committed to living a sustainable lifestyle. Despite that drop, concern about the impact of climate change in New Zealand remains stable at 53%.
  • Economic stress is not the only thing on people’s minds. For the first time in the survey’s history, extreme weather has entered the top 10 concerns.
  • This year’s research found the 18-24-year-old age group displayed the lowest level of commitment to living a sustainable lifestyle of all age groups, with the number of highly committed decreasing 21% since 2022.

The 2023 results are a reminder of the multiple compounding crises Kiwis are currently contending with. It’s not surprising that the commitment to sustainable living has taken a short-term hit. The pressing financial concerns, and inevitable prioritising, has slowed the impetus to make more sustainable decisions, even as attitudes, interest and behaviours in the area are becoming steadily more sustainability-conscious.

In such conditions, when consumers are pulling back, businesses can still develop and enhance their environmentally conscious practices. It is a moment for purpose-minded, yet business opportunity-led progress.

This might include things such as switching to recycled materials and recyclable products, investing in wider initiatives that support climate change education or carbon offsetting measures. It can also mean adopting climate positive, green technologies, like electrified cars, smart thermostats, and energy-efficient appliances. 

Recycling will remain a large part of sustainability strategies. Businesses, in particular manufacturers and producers, can sustain their efforts to reduce and recycle packaging and convey the benefits of this to consumers.

This commitment to sustainable materials includes swapping packaging materials, clothing fibres and even construction materials for more sustainable natural resource options that are either easily biodegradable or replaceable.

Kiwis are concerned about the effects on society of the cost of living.

This year’s report revealed a rising concern among Kiwis about child poverty and crime. Businesses can do much to alleviate child poverty, by creating opportunities for their parents and caregivers. This can involve setting the tone for inclusive employment through commitments, communication, and culture, making adaptations to better identify, integrate, and empower low-income job seekers, and offering quality terms of employment that support sustainable livelihoods.

An effective poverty solutions strategy a company can launch is to lend their time to non-profits tackling this issue.  At Wright Communications we do this through offering heavily discounted and pro bono support to Family Works. 

Retail businesses should be encouraged to share their initiatives in tackling crime in their own stores, expressing to consumers how they are using their initiative to get out in front of the issue.

Global sustainability consumer trends show opportunities for business to lead.

People are seeking leadership from brands and businesses to help them navigate the barriers to sustainability.

Other recent polling found that it can be hard to be informed about environmental issues, with 72% saying that there’s more social pressure than information about what they can do to make lasting change.

35% feel informed about environmentalism, and one in nine admit they’re not confident in understanding how waste affects the environment, but most would be interested in learning more (77%).

The research also found that more people think that large corporations have a greater responsibility to society (30%) by donating or standing up for important causes — above individuals and the government.

Brands who have taken sustainability on board, have woven it into their values, ethos, and products with clear marketing and communications efforts, can maintain a connection with consumers, even when they are prioritising just getting through the tough times.

Companies can find opportunities with the help of powerful and effective communications, providing clarity around sustainability messages.

The importance of intergenerational thinking

This year’s research found the 18-24-year-old age group displayed the lowest level of commitment to living a sustainable lifestyle, with the number of highly committed decreasing 21% since 2022. However, among those aged 66 and over, commitment has increased in the last year. This can be attributed, in large part, by many young Kiwis facing multiple competing crises, with the kind of long-term thinking that is a major element of sustainability, compromised by the urgencies of the day-to-day.

Conversely, older generations have persevered through recessions and other global crises before. The younger generations provide energy and a sense of urgency, calling the older generations to arms and holding them to account, and the older generations in turn provide a broad range of perspectives and experiences, all of which suggests the importance of inter-generational thinking.

Business has a key role to play, not only in supporting Kiwis through the present economic headwinds but also in ensuring we maintain momentum and focus on our long-term sustainability goals. In the short term, they can do their best to make products affordable, be supportive of their workforce, and partner with government where they can in order to alleviate the economic strain.

As always, successful communication involves a delicate balance between emotive pain points and inspiring motivation.

Addressing this balance correctly, organisations can not only boost brands visibility and connection to consumers but also embed long-term consumer behavioural shifts.

Engagement with sustainable messaging and processes will continue to rise, once the pressing urgency of the cost-of-living crisis abates, and people focus once again on the longer-term challenges, and benefits, of sustainability.

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