European Consumer Trends: Sustainability and Ethics

Discover the consumer trends of Europeans regarding sustainability and ethics

April 26, 2024 – European consumers are undoubtedly concerned about the environmental and social effects of their products. However, actions speak louder than words, and oftentimes desires are impeded by lived realities. Our research showcases how things like cost, convenience, confusion, and generational differences impact the sustainability and ethics trends of European consumers.

Perceptions and Concerns

European consumer research indicates the health of the planet as one of their primary global concerns. However, when asked about their top purchase drivers, cost and value for money was by far the most chosen, by over one in two consumers. Comparatively, environmental and social or ethical factors dropped as a primary motivator over the past year, chosen by 14% and 9% of consumers respectively.

Consumers are receptive to paying more for food and beverages that promote social causes, but there is little preference for the specific type of social cause they are helping. They are also open to purchasing plant-based products for their environmentally friendly qualities, with one in three consumers stating they would consider plant-based options for their environmental benefits.

Who Should Take the Lead?

Recently, there has been a slight decline in consumers expecting companies and governments to take responsibility for the environment. While it is a small difference, it may indicate more apathetic European consumer attitudes towards institutions helping with environmental issues. Gen Z has the lowest expectations of company and government involvement, and Boomers have the highest.

Trust in the government, media, large companies and NGOs has decreased as well. However, trust in small businesses has grown. Two in five consumers expressed less trust in the government, while one in three expressed more trust in small businesses.

European Consumer Trends

Claim Confusion

The number of consumers that pay attention to sustainability claims on packaging has remained relatively consistent. However, half of consumers say that there are too many types of sustainability claims, causing confusion. The emergence of single, universal labels, such as the European Eco-Score system, is an attractive idea to remedy this issue, as it pulls together all aspects of environmental impact into a simple score on one label. Simplicity in this regard may be a motivating purchase driver for consumers, as they won’t have to decipher multiple different claims.

Acting on Sustainability Concerns

Reducing and recycling are the top actions consumers take to be ethically responsible. Reducing actions include minimizing food waste, reducing car travel, and reducing air travel. Over half of consumers said that they minimized food waste in the past twelve months – the most chosen action out of all.

While reduction is a core consumer focus for environmental responsibility, actions taken for ethical and social causes differ. The most chosen actions include supporting local growers and producers, choosing fair trade products, and choosing brands that consider animal welfare.

European Consumer Trends: Attitudes to Sustainability in Packaging

One in three consumers are motivated by the environmental aspects of packaging on their products. Elements such as disposability, use of renewable raw materials, and sustainable packaging-related aspects, all influence around one third of consumers in their purchases.

Opinions vary on what types of packaging are most sustainable. Biodegradable packaging is rated as the most eco-friendly, but not by a wide margin. Reusable packaging is most popular among Boomers, while Millennials and Gen Z find this alternative less interesting.

Acting on Packaging Concerns

Regarding packaging choices, opting for recyclable packaging is the most common European consumer action taken for the environment. Millennials are driving the push towards adoption of recyclable packaging, with 39% claiming that they increased their usage of recyclable packaging.

Consumer trend research reveals that with reusable packaging, more than half of consumers prefer a personal refill option, whether it is through an in-store dispenser or through a home delivery service. However, one in ten consumers don’t have any preference for any reusability models.

Over one in three consumers report they have increased their reusable packaging in the last twelve months. Generationally, 70% of Boomers said they stayed the same or decreased using reusable packaging in the past year, while Millennials are most likely to indicate increased use of reusable packaging. Boomers seem to be the most entrenched in their habits, refusing reusable packaging approaches more than any other generation.

Income is also a driver for choosing reusable packaging. 45% of consumers in high-income households reported using reusable packaging more frequently, whereas only 31% of individuals from low-income households reported the same. Additionally, cost is the most important factor motivating consumer avoidance of sustainable packaging.

What’s Next in European Consumer Trends?

Consumers are interested in increasing their plant-based consumption, but also say that they want more plant-based options. Two in five consumers express a strong desire for a wider range of plant-based foods. Additionally, consumers tend to eat plant-based products at home more than out. Brands have the potential to leverage this consumer preference and produce more innovative and unique plant-based products.

Innovative agriculture and technologies are another hot topic for sustainability-minded consumers. Consumers have expressed broad support for various agricultural techniques, such as regenerative farming, weather tracking, soil and water sensors, and precision farming. However, perception of laboratory-based strategies, such as cultured meat and cell-based ingredients is trending towards less favorable. More effort should be placed on informing consumers about the benefits of these technologies. Companies can lean into the natural symbiosis of plant-based products’ environmental benefits. With consumers already interested in plant-based products for sustainability purposes, the products can sport further claims about their beneficial properties in this field. They can additionally place more emphasis on their safety and nutritional content, driving further purchasing motivation for consumers.

Finally, measures should be taken to reduce the cost of sustainable packaging for consumers. The number one reason consumers avoid sustainable packaging is the price, and as such reducing the cost will be beneficial for brands and consumers alike.


This article is based on our insider report, “Understanding Sustainability & Ethics in European Consumer Behavior.” If you are interested in reading this report, feel free to request a demo.
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