Ben Peacock from Republic of Everyone

As many as six in 10 people in Australia are prepared to pay more for a sustainable product, although most are only willing to pay a fraction more – just 5 per cent.

That’s according to 2000 multigenerational respondents in a survey by Republic of Everyone, The Bravery and Mobium Group launched in Sydney on Tuesday. The research found one in three people are happy to pay 5 per cent more, but this drops off steeply when people are asked to pay a higher premium of 10 per cent or more.  

The Bravery’s Claire Maloney, Sendle’s Eva Ross, Ben & Jerry’s Steph Curley, Republic of Everyone Ben Peacock

The research confirmed that richer people are more likely to shop green, with those earning $125,000 a year upwards “often” or “always” seek out socially and environmentally superior products.

However, it’s still important for the lowest paid individuals, with those earning under $60,000 a year seeking out these products 20 per cent of the time.

Interestingly, the thing people are most often looking for on the label is Australian made. When asked why, respondents said it’s partly because it’s associated with local jobs and employment, and partly because they see it as a proxy for ethical labour practices.

Consumers are also on the hunt for carbon neutral products (or made with 100 per cent? renewable energy) and products with 100 per cent recycled packaging.

What we’re worried about

As a national cohort, people in Australia are extremely concerned about our oceans (pollution, overfishing and the Great Barrier Reef), climate change and plastic waste. These make up about a third each of the concerns of the 2000 surveyed respondents.

Across the issues each generation felt most strongly about, there weren’t too many surprises.

Both the health of our oceans and plastic waste were issues that spanned the generational spectrum. Climate change emerged as a top concern for Gen Z (36 per cent), Gen Y (36 per cent) and Gen X (36 per cent) but dropped off the top three list for boomers.

Environmental issues were a concern for boomers, however, with toxic chemicals, the health of our oceans and plastic waste their top worries. The older generation has a point about toxic chemicals, with a new book by Julian Cribb pointing to human-caused chemical pollution as a serious sleeper issue, claiming that human chemical emissions are now five times greater than our climate emission.

Gen Zers are also extremely worried about mental health, which was an issue that didn’t make it into the top three concerns for any of the other generations.

The report also confirmed that people care less as they get older, with the average level of concern dropping form 79 per cent in the Gen Z age group and getting progressively lower until it reached 71 per cent for boomers.

This is not to say boomers don’t care at all. In fact, a recent poll of National Seniors’ members shows more than 82 per cent believe climate change is real, and the organisation is lobbying for some of the government’s expanding debt to be sold as “green infrastructure bonds” so that the elderly can put some of their money towards solving the issue.

Putting our money to work is one of the top ways people like to act on their societal concerns. As many as 57 per cent of people donate to charity regularly and 56 per cent of people actively look for “good” brands and products.

Online activism through petitions is another way people like to do their bit (44 per cent), as well as recycling (57 per cent), using less (31 per cent) and attending rallies and events (22 per cent).

Ben & Jerry’s impact & activism manager, Australia & NZ Steph Curley

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

At the launch event attended by The Fifth Estate, three different brands told their stories about “doing good”: Ben and Jerry’s, Officeworks and Sendle.

Ben & Jerry’s impact & activism manager, Australia & NZ Steph Curley spoke about the company’s history of activism, and its campaign to encourage consumers to send personalised email to politicians asking for action on climate.

She said that although the company is a dairy company, that shouldn’t stop the ice cream company taking a stance on climate issues.

It is important to be also working hard to decarbonise operations, however. Ms Curley said that the company knows “exactly per pint what the carbon footprint is” and has research teams in the US dedicated to bringing the carbon footprint of its products down. It’s also launched vegan flavours, and a butter made out of sunflowers.