Ten years after it was launched, an annual index measuring U.S. consumers’ socially responsible attitudes and behaviors shows mixed progress.
On the one hand, after coming in at a record low of 39 in 2020, the index rose to an all-time high of 51 the next year. In 2022, there was a slight decrease to 48.
On the other, the 2022 result was the second highest since the survey began.
That’s according to the Conscious Consumer Spending Index (CCSIndex), which gauges the extent to which consumers are—or aren’t—embracing conscious consumerism, charitable giving and environmentally-oriented practices.
“After those results in 2021, we expected to see at least a slight decline this year,” says Heath Shackleford, CEO of Good.Must.Grow, a socially responsible marketing consulting firm that administers the research. “But the vast majority of consumers continue to feel purpose is important when they shop.”
The CCSIndex is calculated by assessing such matters as the importance consumers place on buying from socially responsible companies, how they’re supporting those products and services and intent to increase their patronage of such companies. For this year’s research, 1,005 Americans were surveyed. According to Good.Must.Grow, thanks to the design of the index’s design, even a one-point change indicates a meaningful shift in consumer sentiment.
Shackleford points to inflation as the main culprit for this year’s decrease. That’s because socially responsible products tend to be more expensive—or at least, are perceived as carrying a higher price tag—than their non-responsible counterparts, he says. Only 57% reported buying goods from socially responsible brands in 2022 compared to 64% in 2021. In 2013, the year of the inaugural index, it was 62%.
The research shows that, says Shackleford, “A hard core of Americans will support purposeful brands no matter what.” But most of the country, even if they believe such purchases are important, feel they can’t afford to buy them during a time when their purchasing power is down.
At the same time, “A vast majority of consumers feels purpose is important when they shop,” he says. In addition, in 2013, 25% reported boycotting brands that weren’t socially responsible compared to 32% in 2022.
The lesson for companies is: They have to meet consumer expectations for factors like price, in addition to their mission, according to Shackleford.
Additional noteworthy results include:
A growing pessimism among Americans. Respondents indicated a growing sense that the world is getting worse. In 2019, 36% agreed with that statement, increasing to 42% in 2020 and 44% in 2021. In 2022, it was 45%. Also, while those who say the world is getting worse have a lower index score than people who say it’s getting better, the lowest score was for respondents who feel things are pretty much the same.
Decline in charitable giving. The portion of people who made financial contributions to a nonprofits declined by 20% from 2013 to 2022. Those volunteering also decreased.
Votes for the most socially responsible enterprise. For the eighth year, the poll asked respondents for the company or organization they first think of when they think of socially responsible enterprises. The top five: Amazon, Google, the Salvation Army, Apple and Walmart. Amazon, which has topped the list for four years in a row, received twice as many votes as Google in 2022. For the first time, TOMS, an iconic social enterprise, fell off the list. It was the top brand for the first two years of the poll.