Growth in Conscious Consumption in Brazil 

Research by the Akatu Institute highlights this growth and impact on purchasing decisions

May 2013

On April 23, the Sao Paulo-based NGO, Akatu Institute, released its Research report: "2012 Akatu Institute Research: Towards a Welfare Society." This is the eighth edition of a series of publications on Corporate Social Responsibility - Perception of the Brazilian Consumer.  
 
The survey portrays how Brazilian consumers show more interest and a better knowledge of sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, and are also increasingly critical and demanding about companies' practices. Sponsored by Grupo Pão de Açúcar, Natura, Nestlé and Unilever, the survey interviewed 800 adults over 16 years old, from all social classes and from twelve different metropolitan areas.
 
Although the survey found a stable number of consumers classified as "Conscious" - around 5% of the population - there has been a growth in the practice of conscious consumption, on an occasional (but not yet continuous) basis. Eight of eleven behaviors indicative of conscious consumption showed an increase since 2010, including: planning the purchase of food and clothing, turning off lights, closing taps, using both sides of paper and reading product labels.
 
This trend is reinforced by another important result of the research: when asked to prioritize their wishes, a significant majority of the respondents chose more sustainable solutions. In five of eight subjects (affection, food, water, mobility, durability, energy, waste and health) they prioritized alternatives regarding "the path to sustainability" over those related to "consumerism". An example is the theme of affection, which shows the largest difference among the consumers, who prefer a more sustainable scenario (spending time with friends and family - with a priority index of 8.3 on a 0-10 scale) as opposed to the consumerists (buying gifts - with an index of 2.6). It is worth noting that the preference for the "path to sustainability" occurs in all social classes, age groups and in all socioeconomic and geographic segments.
 
For Brazilians, the concept of happiness is related to the preference for more sustainable ways. Two-thirds of respondents stated that being healthy and/or having a healthy family is an essential factor for happiness. Sixty percent said getting along with family and friends gets them closer to happiness. Only three out of ten mentioned financial stability as an answer to the question "what is happiness to you?"
 
"The survey shows that much of Brazilian society already shares, even in an irregular and barely conscious way, the idea that once the basic needs are met, the pursuit of happiness involves taking the path of sustainability and not of consumerism," said Helio Mattar, President and CEO of the Instituto Akatu.
 
Purchasing Decisions

By valuing a more conscious consumption and more sustainable options, Brazilian consumers have also become more demanding with respect to the performance of companies. The survey found that respondents report corporate behavior has a direct impact on their purchasing decisions. They highlight five aspects as motivators of their preference or admiration for certain businesses: "Not mistreating animals" (52%), "Having good relations with the community "(46%)," Having environmental protection certificates "(46%)," Helping to reduce energy consumption "(44%) and " Having good working conditions certificates "(43%). The two practices that most negatively impact the consumer's willingness to buy products from a company were the same in previous years: "Having products that can cause damage to the physical integrity of its consumers" (72%) and "Making false advertising" (71%).
 
"Knowing this information...this is a warning sign for companies and leaders in general, who should deeply evaluate their strategies to further explore a model that does not conflict with the aspirations of consumers and their concept of happiness," indicated Mr. Mattar. "Sustainability and social responsibility are and will always be the key pillars to support the transition of civilization in which we are all involved. Therefore, these pillars must be incorporated into the actual practices of the companies" he adds.
 
The research also found an increase in skepticism of Brazilians concerning businesses: the percentage of consumers - already low in 2010 - who wholeheartedly believed in what companies disclose about their Corporate Social Responsibility practices fell from 13% to 8%.
 
The increasing skepticism is possibly associated with the growth of understanding about sustainability and the interest in having information. The number of Brazilians who "have heard about" the word "sustainability" has jumped from 44% to 60% in two years, as has their interest in seeking information on the subject (14% to 24%). When compared to many others, the only two subjects showing a significant growth in interest were precisely Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability: in 2010, they both were at a level lower than all others, but in 2012, 24% indicated their interest in the topic of Sustainability and 25% in Corporate Social Responsibility, virtually the same level as in traditional subjects such as Companies/Business (26%) and Politics (30%).
 
Reflecting on the role of businesses, Mr. Mattar noted, "there are certainly key roles to be played by all social actors. But it is also true that companies have a key role in the process, encouraging and giving concreteness to the path towards a more sustainable society, in order to include the billions of human beings still deprived of the basic conditions for the promotion of their welfare and material security, respecting the limits of the planet.

Mr. Mattar is a member of SAI's Advisory Board. Read the report in Portuguese at http://bit.ly/ZHAk7H
 
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