• 12.07.16

Conscious Consumerism Is Growing, But Many People Can’t Name A Responsible Company

Social responsibility is important to consumers, they just don’t quite know what it is.

Conscious Consumerism Is Growing, But Many People Can’t Name A Responsible Company

Look around any supermarket aisle or shopping street and you see that social responsibility sells. From laundry detergent from Seventh Generation to durable jackets from Patagonia, companies that do good (or a bit better) are on the rise. But how widespread is the conscious consumerism “movement” really? Is it still a niche phenomenon or something likely to sweep the market in the years to come?


You get a mixed picture from a new survey commissioned by the marketing agency Good.Must.Grow. On one hand, 60% of Americans stress the importance of buying from responsible brands. On the other, many can’t actually name a responsible company, and, when they do, they come up with questionable choices.

The fourth annual Conscious Consumer Spending Index actually finds a slight fall in values-driven consumerism. The “importance” figure is down from 64% in 2015. This year, 64% of people reported making purchases from socially responsible companies, down from 65% last year. Next year, 31% say they plan to spend more with responsible companies, down from 32% last year. Overall, the index, which tracks sentiment across importance, behavior, and intent, shows a slight drop from 48 to 46 points this year.

“We have a long way to go to get people completely educated,” says Heath Shackleford, founder of Good.Must.Grow. “I think that’s why we don’t see more of an increase.”

The poll reached a representative sample of more than 1,000 people. When asked to name a responsible organization, the most frequent response was Toms, the buy-one-give-one pioneer. Red Cross and Starbucks were next most popular, followed by Goodwill and Microsoft, with Amazon, Facebook and Target also making the list. But a lot of people couldn’t name any. The breakout results reveal at least 100 versions of “don’t know” along with plenty of generic responses like “energy companies” and “churches.”

The results could spell bad news for charities, as increasing numbers of people see conscious consumerism as an alternative to charitable giving. In 2015, 18% said they preferred “giving back” by buying socially responsible products. This year, that number rose to 22%. About half of respondents said they believe “purchasing socially responsible products was a more effective way to support positive change.”

As for Toms, even its reach may only extend so far. Half of those surveyed said they’d prefer a “buy one, get one free” offer as opposed to a “get one, give one” offer, or a brand making a charitable donation on their behalf. With much of America struggling to pay the bills, there may be limits to how far the conscious consumerism message can travel.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.