Falling GfK Sustainability Index: Inflation as a reason for less sustainable consumption

In October, the GfK sustainability index fell to its lowest value since its first survey

GfK sustainability index

Author: House of Eden

  • A growing part of the population is hesitant to spend additional money on sustainable products in the areas of food, drugstore products or larger purchases
  • This is mainly due to inflation and the associated fear of unemployment, comfort, the need to own a car, inadequate public transport and limited financial resources
  • Crisis fatigue is spreading throughout society: more and more people are doubting whether their personal commitment to sustainability has a noticeable impact on the overall situation

Sustainability remains important to Germans, but in view of persistent inflation and fears of unemployment, consumers are very unsettled. This reduces the overall buying mood and, in particular, the willingness to pay for sustainable purchases this month.

Accordingly, the GfK sustainability index continues to decline and is now 8,8 points below the value for August 2023. “The current situation shows that sustainable consumption is increasingly becoming a question of income,” says Petra Süptitz, sustainability expert at GfK. “It is primarily people with a monthly net household income of 4.000 euros or more who are willing to shop with sustainability in mind.”

The most important results at a glance:

  • In October, the willingness to make sustainable larger purchases and sustainable FMCGs (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) fell significantly. For larger purchases, the proportion of sustainable purchases fell to 26 percent, while 28 percent were planning such purchases.
  • For FMCG products, the share of sustainable purchases fell to 69 percent, compared to 72 percent last month. Only 21 percent often use sustainable products.
  • Fewer consumers are willing to spend more on sustainability: 63 percent would dig deeper into their pockets for FMCG products and 67 percent for larger purchases, each 5 percentage points less than in the last survey.

GRP infographic

Sustainability yes, but comfort is a must

According to the GfK Consumer Life study, climate change remains an important issue for Germans and is one of the top three concerns. Nevertheless, from the perspective of consumers, there are various barriers to sustainable action, as a current special evaluation by GfK shows. For example, doubts about one's own effectiveness grow.

“Although three quarters of people still believe that they can contribute to climate protection with their consumer behavior, they are increasingly tired of the crisis,” says Petra Süptitz. “Almost half of the study participants are convinced that it is of no use if they act in an environmentally friendly manner but others do not. It is therefore important that companies also inspire people to make changes to their lifestyle in order to strengthen their sense of self-efficacy.” Higher prices are also preventing more and more consumers from purchasing sustainable products. Four years ago, 31 percent of Germans said they could not afford sustainability financially, but this proportion is now significantly higher at 48 percent. Women, people with low incomes and single households are particularly affected.

The GfK study also shows that 65 percent of consumers do not want to forego a certain level of comfort despite their ecological awareness. This also includes having your own car, which is important for 65 percent of those surveyed. The transport infrastructure plays an important role here: the poor development of local transport is an obstacle for 62 percent of Germans to get around alternatively. This is particularly true for the population in rural areas. However, this value has fallen by 2020 percentage points compared to 6.

Barriers to sustainable action

Younger target groups want more sustainable choices

If you look at the group of 18 to 29 year olds, on the one hand there are more hedonistic reasons that speak against sustainable consumption, such as not wanting to do without long-distance travel, the latest technical gadgets or trendy clothing. On the other hand, young consumers often lack the choice of environmentally friendly packaging and sustainably manufactured products that meet their needs. Manufacturers and retailers are asked to expand their range accordingly.

In addition, credibility and trust when it comes to sustainability are crucial to purchasing, and not just for young consumers. The GfK data shows that more than half of German consumers cannot estimate how environmentally friendly products really are. “However, facts and figures play an important role for almost two thirds of Germans when it comes to believing the promises of sustainability,” explains Petra Süptitz. “In particular, the group of crisis-proof consumers with high incomes, who make up around a third of the population, can be reached with data-based sustainability statements. Manufacturers and retailers can ensure trust with appropriate communication.”



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