If recent headlines are anything to go by it looks like 2018 might be the year that ethical and sustainable living goes mainstream.
Leading Market Intelligence Agency Mintel have identified ethics, sustainability, trust and transparency as four of the key themes set to impact consumer trends in the year ahead.
So what trends can we expect to see in 2018?
Plastic pollution has certainly been one of the biggest news stories of the year so far. The issue came to public attention at the end of 2017 when it was highlighted by Blue Planet II, and with China no longer accepting plastic waste the problem has suddenly moved a lot closer to home for many countries, including the UK.
The UK Government’s ban on microbeads came into effect and Scotland have committed to a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles. Proposals for a “latte levy” to be charged on disposable coffee cups brought to attention the fact that these paper cups still contain plastic and are causing huge amounts of waste.
Market Intelligence Agency Mintel have produced a report on 2018 consumer trends with some predictions for ocean pollution and plastics. Their report highlights how big brands are jumping on the issue – Adidas are making one million shoes from recycled ocean plastic and Procter & Gamble have committed to introducing 25% recycled plastic across 500 million bottles sold yearly across its haircare brands. Coca-Cola have also responded to pressure and raised their 2020 recycling target to 50%, and it’s likely that other perceived polluters will be forced to follow.
The theme for World Environment Day 2018 in June will be plastic pollution and Mintel predict that consumer adoption will be driven by health and saving money – important factors for plastic-free brands to remember in their marketing messaging.
The plastic pollution issue is clearly going to dominate headlines throughout 2018. Now is the time to talk about what your brand is doing to reduce plastic and help solve this global problem!
War on Packaging
In light of all the plastic headlines and the impact of Blue Planet II, many supermarkets have confirmed their commitment to introducing plastic-free aisles or, like Iceland, going plastic free with their own brands.
A survey for Iceland revealed overwhelming public support for a shift away from plastic, with 80% of 5,000 people saying they would endorse a supermarket’s move to go plastic-free.
UK supermarkets currently generate 1 million tonnes of plastic packaging every year but sufficient momentum is building in public opinion against plastic waste that it’s likely more businesses and brands will have to rethink their packaging solutions in 2018 and beyond.
Ethical food trends on the rise
According to Ethical Consumer’s Markets Report 2017, ethical food and drink saw a 9.7% growth last year where conventional foods were struggling.
There was a 30% increase in vegetarianism and an even faster rise in veganism – Veganuary 2018 has had a record breaking year with over 150,000 participants signing up. Just Eat predicts that veganism will be the food trend of 2018 after seeing a 94% increase in demand for healthy food last year.
According to Ethical Consumer, Fairtrade has also returned to growth in 2017 after two years of decline.
YouGov survey data shows a dramatic increase in people changing their diet for ethical reasons, and this is likely to continue in 2018 and beyond. This is good news for ethical food producers and also for beauty and lifestyle brands with a vegan focus – where people change their eating habits a lifestyle change is likely to follow and with rising demand in the vegan market now is the time to raise awareness of what you do.
More growth for Ethical Fashion
According to Mintel, two in five UK women aged 16-24 would like to see more eco-friendly fabrics used in clothes.
Fashion Revolution 2017 was the biggest and loudest campaign yet – 66,000 people attended around 1000 Fashion Revolution events and there were 533 million impressions of posts using one of their hashtags during April – an increase of almost 250% on 2016.
The campaign also saw more brands responding to requests to know #Whomademyclothes – and it’s likely that fashion retailers are going to face more pressure to be transparent about their production lines and supply chains. According to reports, one in five 20-24-year olds in the UK said they would like online retailers to have videos showing how clothes and shoes are made.
Consumers are looking for brands to be more transparent and honest, and to provide evidence to back up their ethical and sustainable claims.
Retailer H&M were exposed for burning unsold clothes in 2017 and attracted even more negative press at the start of this year when a racism scandal led to trashed stores and several celebrity partners pulling out of endorsement deals.
Fast fashion is clearly falling out of favour and slow, ethical and sustainable fashion is on the rise. 2018 is likely to be a key year for ethical fashion brands to tap into major growth opportunities – especially in April when Fashion Revolution will mark 5 years on from the Rana Plaza collapse.
Climate change on the agenda
2017 was a bad year for climate change, with Trump pulling the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement and reports in November showing a growth in global emissions – despite several previous years showing modest decline.
Scientists from 184 countries issued a letter in 2017 that provided a second “warning to humanity”. The first letter in 1992 warned that humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. Last year’s follow up says that we have failed to make sufficient progress on these issues and soon it will be too late.
97% of scientists agree that climate change is real, dangerous and man-made. Four of the top five risks in this year’s Global Risk Report are environmental, and all have a higher than average likelihood of occurance.
Climate change and environmental concerns are high on the agenda for the World Economic Forum in Davos, where around 3,000 of the world’s elites from the worlds of business, finance, politics and public affairs will meet this week to discuss a wide range of issues in an attempt to ‘improve the state of the world’.
Business leaders across America expressed their desire to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement and as we see this implemented in 2018 and beyond we can expect corporations and governments to work together to find solutions. New agendas are being defined for oceans, forests and biodiversity. Technology will play a key role in scaling impact fast – with the world’s food crisis continuing to sit high up on the agenda for Silicon Valley.
Last Chance Tourism
Experts predict that the travel industry will be bigger than ever this year. Unfortunately ‘last chance tourism’ is a growing area which experts have named the top travel trend in 2018.
Blamed on the ‘climate change effect’, tourists want to see endangered animals, landmarks and destinations before they disappear. Some believe this will perpetuate the problems that are destroying these environments – like pollution and global warming, while others think this interest in last-chance travel is leading to a rising interest in ecotourism and sustainable experiences.
Whatever your view, if you’re working in the eco-tourism, sustainability or conservation space then now is the time to talk about it while it’s such a hot topic!
The spending power of millennials is growing and research shows that they prefer to do business with corporations and brands that maintain ethical business standards and studies show they are willing to pay more for ethical and sustainable credentials.
While we can’t predict exactly what headlines will hit in 2018, as ethical business owners we need to use our marketing, communities and collective voice to continue to raise awareness of our cause and jump on opportunities when they arise. It’s likely that as a generation of conscious consumers increases in spending power, we will see an increase in demand for ethical and sustainable products and business practices which we are in prime position to meet.
Let’s make 2018 the most ethical year yet!
Thoughts from the community…
I asked the #EthicalHour community for their opinions on the trends to watch in 2018 and as always it sparked an interesting and insightful debate ranging from sustainable crops to plastics, veganism, zero waste and greenwashing. Here are just a few of the key themes, trends and comments that emerged…
“I believe that natural fabrics like khadi will really make their presence felt this year. The low carbon and low water production and fair trade ethos is appealing for ethical reasons….The backlash against plastics will encourage people to natural fabrics”
– Jo Salter, Where Does It Come From?
“Cotton continues to be the favoured natural fibre for several reasons, but it is also one of the biggest consumers of harmful chemicals. Organic cotton presents an alternative. With handwoven fabrics and khadi, other environmental, especially low carbon footprint and huge social benefits are also added. These are less well known than organic mill spun fabrics and less easily available. Once these hurdles are crossed, organic khadi will start becoming the trend.”
“I think a big thing this year will be UK (or locally) made products. Consumers are now more aware of the impact certain materials have on the environment but the next step is consideration of the carbon footprint of a product – not only what it is made of, the energy & ethics behind the manufacturing but also the distance it travels and how this impacts the environment.”
Becky – Eco Mailing Bags
“2017 came with many big eye openers and policy changes around the world that sought to enact change. That is why in 2018 transparency in supply chains and sustainable choices will be in higher demand as people try to live their lives in a more sustainable way.”
“Greenwashing will be a trend – we are already seeing it with big fast fashion brands. Plus plastic consumption is a huge one. We all just need to slow down! I think that 2018 has to be a year of increased transparency, BUT equally important is that consumers become more aware. Sometimes I speak to friends outside of the industry and they really have no clue what serious damage we are putting on the environment and the system in general. Including the environment of the people who make the products! It’s easy to stay disconnected from the reality thus the importance of informing the consumer is crucial for the movement!”
Yanna, Tizz and Tonic
“More big corporations will either buy small ethical companies or start their own ethical subsidiary brands. And consumers will ask more difficult questions about supply chains, treatment of staff and tax payments. As the Millennial generation grows up to take a more important role in the marketplace, company cultures will shift towards a greater openness, more collaboration and placing a high value on “soft skills” like communication.”
Sabine, From Scratch
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Sian is a brand, marketing and communications strategist, sustainability expert, author, and Founder of #EthicalHour. She was the UK Sustainability Influencer of the Year and published her book 'Buy Better Consume Less' in 2021, building on her extensive experience of helping Big Why Business Founders start and scale eco-focused brands and take them mainstream.