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For years, we’ve been hearing about how consumers are prioritizing sustainability in the products they spend their hard-earned money on—and companies are adapting to meet that demand.

But should we halt that production line, maybe? A new report finds that consumers care more about durability than they do sustainability. According to surveys of 7,500 consumers around the world, only 16 percent of shoppers said sustainability was one of their top three deciding factors. Even fewer, 12 percent, listed ethical sourcing of their products in the top three.

What did the consumers say they care about? Quality and price were the top factors, with 22 percent of respondents saying those were their primary concerns. (If you like country-by-country breakdowns: U.K. consumers were the most cost-conscious, with 28 percent saying it was the number one factor, while Chinese shoppers cared the least about price—just 6 percent said it was their top consideration.)

Here’s where things get even more interesting: Almost half of respondents said that durability is one of their top five shopping considerations. Forty-three percent of the shoppers said that when buying clothing, transparency is important to their purchasing decisions.

After quality, cost, and durability—the top three concerns—shoppers ranked availability, design, convenience, “makes me feel good,” brand reputation, and then sustainability, as the factors they cared about the most. Then came brand reputation, “makes me look good” (coming in surprisingly low in the rankings), ethical origins/sourcing, ethical worker conditions, and, finally, opinions of friends/others.

The report describes the shoppers’ responses as sending “mixed signals”—a fair observation—but also presenting an opportunity “for businesses to shape the future of sustainability by putting a greater focus on product durability.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why might consumers prioritize durability over sustainability?
  2. What is the best way to market a product’s durability?
  3. How should this report guide companies’ decisions about which products to make, and how to market them?

Sources: Tom Ryan, “Is Durability a More Sustainable Selling Point Than Sustainability?” RetailWire, November 16, 2022; “The Missing Billions: The Real Cost of Supply Chain Waste,” rfid.averydennison.com, November 10, 2022