The Responsible Consumption Index
As attitudes toward consumption continue to evolve, more Quebecers are making socially responsible choices.
The Observatoire de la consommation responsable (OCR) of UQAM’s École des sciences de la gestion has made public the 2015 edition of the Baromètre de la consommation responsable. Now in its sixth year, the study describes consumer trends in the province; its results show that through their attitudes and preoccupations Quebecers aspire to a different consumer society. As a matter of fact, 87.7% of the population believes that we need to rethink not only the ways in which we consume, but also the way we live and express our values, and responsible investing is making gains in this respect.
The study provides a tool for measuring the prevalence of responsible consumption as seen through practices such as local or fair-trade purchasing, sustainable transportation, animal protection, composting and collaborative consumption. The Index of Responsible Consumption (ICR), as the tool is called, has increased by 1.9 points since its inception to reach 65.9 this year, its highest level yet. It’s a result that strongly suggests that citizens are making real and lasting changes in their behavior.
With an index of 67.3, Quebecers aged 45 to 64 are still in the lead as the most responsible generation, but 25-to-44 year-olds have recorded more growth than any other group; their index has jumped 4.6 points since 2010 to reach 65.1 this year. And for the first time, the gap of responsible consumption between men and women has decreased to such a degree that it is no longer meaningful.
Toward a sharing economy
One trend the index has made clear is that Quebecers are gradually turning to the sharing economy, a model of accessing goods and services that is gathering momentum on a global scale. The sharing economy is particularly appealing to responsible consumers because it makes use of existing resources, which individuals can market via online platforms, and appears to bring significant economic and environmental benefits to communities (its effects have yet to be formally studied). In order to track the evolution of this rapidly developing economic activity, the ICR includes figures on collaborative consumption behavior for the first time this year, according to Fabien Durif, the co-founder and director of the UQAM ESG Observatoire de la Consommation Responsable,
The study finds that the most popular applications of collaborative consumption by far are peer-to-peer Web platforms, such as Kijiji or LesPAC, that enable individuals to buy, rent, trade or donate used goods; 44.9% of respondents say they have used one in the past year. Meanwhile, peer-to-peer Web platforms providing services, such as car sharing, garden sharing and crowdfunding, were used by nearly one in five Quebecers (19.3%).
Crowdfunding in particular is gaining traction: 3.8% of respondents have invested in or donated funds to finance projects on crowdfunding Web platforms. Interestingly, half of those individuals have also contributed to socially responsible investment products such as socially responsible investment funds or microcredit funds.
Emblematic representatives of the sharing economy, Airbnb and Uber are attracting a growing number of users. In 2015, 9.4% of Quebecers availed themselves of Airbnb’s services and 7.5% those of Uber, and more than half of those polled intend to increase their use of both platforms in the coming year. The debate surrounding collaborative consumption has not been a deterrent; only 4.7% of Airbnb users and 13.6% of Uber users consider these services illegal. At the same time, a greater number of Uber users (34.8%) believe that the service should be subject to government regulation, against only 9.5% of Airbnb users.
Most Quebecers are now buying local when it comes to eco-friendly goods, including 9 of the 20 most commonly purchased local products, among them strawberries, tomatoes and apples. Another sign of domestic bliss: producing homemade goods has become a badge of honor among Quebecers who now consider doing it yourself a creative occupation. As a result, 56.1% cook much more than they used to, 40.4% reuse goods through recycling and transformation, and 34.7% repair and renovate more than they did previously. Consumers are largely trying to stretch their dollar when they cook, sew or plant a vegetable garden at home, but it’s not just about the money; they mention as motivations not only environmental concerns, but also personal pleasure.
Whether they are buying or renting, 36.2% of Quebecers will consider living in an eco-friendly dwelling the next time they move. And although very few Quebecers own an eco-friendly car, a growing number of drivers (37% vs. 28.1% in 2014) will consider buying a hybrid car (the most commonly cited: The Toyota Prius C) the next time they shop for a vehicle and 27.1% an electric car. The top contender in that category? Tesla’s Model S.
Scepticism about corporations’ environmental claims and commitment to sustainability has actually risen over the years, according to the index. Nonetheless, brands that are seen as responsible improve their credibility and boost their symbolic capital in the eyes of Quebecers. With their focus on meaning and values, these brands earn consumers’ trust and admiration, which in turn can translate into an increase in the company’s bottom line. Indeed, brands would do well to cultivate their image of social responsibility, as the study shows that Quebecers are overwhelmingly loyal to responsible brands they admire – so much so that 9 out 10 (89.6%) also like to spread the word by engaging in positive word-of-mouth. When it comes to social responsibility in the minds of Quebec consumers, Cascade is the company that stands above all others, although it is worth noting that many of the respondents found it difficult to name more than one brand or company that they consider socially responsible.