Opinion

Actually, Consumers Do Buy Sustainable Products

Tensie Whelan and Randi Kronthal-Sacco

By Tensie Whelan and Randi Kronthal-Sacco

In more than 90% of the CPG categories, sustainability-marketed products grew faster than their conventional counterparts.

By Tensie Whelan and Randi Kronthal-Sacco

For years, brand managers have groused that while consumers say they intend to buy sustainable products, in store they don’t actually purchase them. This conventional wisdom has been used by many brands as justification for not making their products more sustainable.

NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business just completed extensive research into U.S. consumers’ actual purchasing of consumer packaged goods (CPG), using data contributed by IRI, and found that 50% of CPG growth from 2013 to 2018 came from sustainability-marketed products. IRI’s data comes from bar scan codes at retail checkout in food, drug, dollar, and mass merchandisers. We examined over 36 categories and more than 71,000 SKUs, which accounted for 40% of CPG dollar sales over the five-year period.

Products that had a sustainability claim on-pack accounted for 16.6% of the market in 2018, up from 14.3% in 2013, and delivered nearly $114 billion in sales, up 29% from 2013. Most important, products marketed as sustainable grew 5.6 times faster than those that were not. In more than 90% of the CPG categories, sustainability-marketed products grew faster than their conventional counterparts.

Read the full Harvard Business Review article.
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Tensie Whelan is a Clinical Professor of Business and Society and Director of the Center for Sustainable Business. Randi Kronthal-Sacco is the Senior Scholar of Marketing and Corporate Outreach at the Center for Sustainable Business.