A journey begins: Canadian consumers on the path to net-zero

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important value for consumers. It’s influencing them to re-evaluate their purchasing behaviours and their loyalty to brands.

To understand how Canadians perceive their path to net-zero emissions, we explored several questions, including:

  • How do Canadians factor sustainability into their buying decisions?
  • What role does brand and product offering play in consumers’ behaviour concerning sustainability?

Using a combination of social listening (an aggregate collection and analysis of social media content) and human-centred design research to obtain the raw data (via one-on-one, in-depth conversations with Canadians), our analysis identified four key consumer mindsets, based on people’s ability and motivation to make sustainable choices.

In an ideal world, every consumer would have a climate-active mindset: they’d view sustainability as both important and easy enough to act on. Our research, however, shows that the majority fall into the under-powered group—those who believe sustainability is important but hard to act on. Encouraging more consumers to become climate-active hinges on one important thing: choice. Our research shows customers are strongly motivated to do good. But they need support and occasions to do so—and that creates an opportunity for brands to innovate sustainable solutions that help their customers achieve their objectives.

In recent years, the mainstream climate change discourse has moved past acceptance of the underlying science and urgency of the problem toward the serious and practical consideration of solutions.

The context

Most of the world’s largest governments and corporations have set targets for net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the next 30 years to mitigate runaway climate change and limit global warming to at most 2˚C above pre-industrial levels. Deloitte is part of this movement through its WorldClimate strategy, which aims to bring the organization to net-zero emissions much earlier—by 2030.

The normalization of sustainability as a consumer value has emerged, becoming an essential component for many modern brands. As this becomes the standard, climate skepticism has moved to the fringe—shifting from questioning the science to questioning the feasibility of solutions.

Framing the problem

Through our research, we found that discussions about climate change and GHG emissions often digressed into broader concerns about sustainability. This indicates that the consumer perspective on the journey to net-zero is nuanced and tightly connected to a host of adjacent issues.

Some of the overarching questions we explored in our social media scan and interviews include:

Our research motivation and approach

Building on the lessons from Market Gravity’s 2019 The Human Cost of Climate Change* report, this research initiative applies a novel combination of social listening and human-centred design research to investigate the consumer perspective on reaching net-zero.

We collected data from across Canada from two distinct streams. We compared what we learned from both and then integrated them to form our key insights.

Research Graphic

Human-centred design research

One-on-one, in-depth conversations with Canadians from diverse socio-economic standings to understand why and how they are making key decisions.

  • Human-centred design helps us understand what consumers think, feel, and need.
  • Behavioural frameworks were used to identify key psychological barriers, mindsets, and nudges to directly address decision-making.
Research Graphic

Social listening

An aggregate collection and analysis of social media chatter, forums, blogs, and other open-source information from May 2020 to May 2021 to understand what and how information is spreading.

  • Open-source intelligence analysts and investigative experts conducted the research.
  • We collected, filtered, and analyzed data from 650 million+ posts from public sources in 180+ languages (including French and English) using best-in-class social media and network analysis tools.

The mindsets we uncovered

Through our research on consumer attitudes toward climate change and sustainability, four mindset quadrants were identified. These are defined by consumers’ ability to make sustainable choices and their motivation to do so.

The four mindsets are overlaid onto the Fogg Behaviour Model. We discovered that many Canadians are stuck in a holding pattern in the under-powered mindset, perched to cross into the climate-active mindset when more sustainable options become available to them.

Motivation to make sustainable choices
Ability to make sustainable choices

Themes generated from our research

Through our research, four thematic areas emerged as the defining elements of the willing customers’ journey toward net-zero.

How might we enable and accelerate Canada's journey to net-zero?

We set out to understand how consumers in this country think about the impact of their purchasing choices on climate change. Given the mindsets and key themes that our research revealed, we see several opportunities to meaningfully engage around sustainability and create win-win scenarios for consumers, companies, and communities at large.

Person walking over a blue speech bubble Person running over a green bubble Person climbing over a gray bubble

Who to engage

Focus on serving those with the under-powered mindset by providing access to more sustainable choices. They are willing agents of change. Rather than needing to motivate people to make the more sustainable choice, the biggest opportunity lies in providing greater access to those who are already keen.

As time passes, consumer anxiety and dissatisfaction with slow-moving brands will continue to grow. Despite the growing urgency of climate change, inertia in the private sector means it’s not getting easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. For most Canadians, the journey to net-zero is all about making choices easier.

Where to start

Making tangible, well-informed, and value-based commitments can position brands as dependable partners and gain the initial trust of customers.

By understanding the core signals and imprints that resonate with the climate-active and under-powered mindsets, brands can create meaningful nudges to engage with these individuals.

How to grow

Transform your products, services, and policies to reflect changing consumer values on sustainability. This will build a deep sense of trust—and loyalty—over time.

Fostering a richer relationship with consumers and partnering with them on the journey to net-zero means keeping an active finger on the pulse on their sentiments and mindsets as they continue to shift. Building a balanced portfolio and continuing to adapt will underpin long-term customer loyalty.

Today’s purchasing strategies are geared to shoo consumers along to checkout without pausing to think about their impact. Instead, brands can use key signals to disrupt this flow and turn every purchase into an opportunity to build trust with their customers by demonstrating their commitment to sustainability.

Using what we learned about imprints, brands can craft tangible, accessible commitments that help combat climate anxiety by giving customers clear opportunities to take action through their choices.

Your customers are strongly motivated to do good.

If you help them act in alignment with their values by offering and steering them toward sustainable options, then you’ll make them feel good about their decision and win them over.