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  • Nick Pye

Why 87% of consumer sustainability data is shite…


Why 87% of consumer sustainability data is shite…


As keen sustainability watchers, our inboxes are awash with what you might call “sound bite stats”. On LinkedIn this week, there was much excitement about a recent Drapers survey that found 57% of Gen Z and Millennials say sustainability is important when it comes to shopping for clothes, accessories or shoes. This number has increased from 47% in the 2022 survey. Cue high fives and party cone emojis.

However, we have some concerns about these headlines. For the record, Drapers are great and this particular stat was taken out of context from a sponsored report. At best this sort of data is lazy marketing of niche salesy whitepapers but, at their worst, they are massively distorting the picture of what’s really going on “out there”.


  • Firstly, 90%* of the headlines are claimed and not actual behaviour so only reflects intent or a need to say the right thing when asked. The vast majority of people are worried about sustainability but far fewer are doing anything about it, or only doing something about it …very sporadically. One sobering fact that shows intent isn’t translating to action, which caught our eye this week is that Shein did $23bn in sales in 2022 and forecast 40% growth in 2023…

*in the spirit of this piece – this is a made up number, but is probably very high!


  • Its data not insight – we have no ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. We don’t know the drivers. Take another headline: ‘68% of Gen Z and millennials have purchased pre-loved or second-hand fashion’. The issue is that we don’t know WHY – is it because it is cheaper, it’s great value, they have no choice (no money), want unique pieces to express their creativity and style, are worried about environmental impact, want to support charity…or a bit of all three. To compound this, as above, we don’t have any real behaviour (i.e. what % of their spend, total purchases etc).

  • Methodologies designed for headlines & reports not learning – most “sound bite stats” are based on large sample (good) but poorly designed studies usually with the primary aim to get a headline not any real understanding (bad). This often means superficial findings and a frustrating lack of clarity around correlation vs causation. There is no way of working out WTF is actually going on behind the numbers.

It might be a bit geeky but we HAVE to get a bit deeper into this. The say-do gap which sits behind most of this is critical to change. We need to get deeper in how can business and brands cross the chasm between attitude and actual real world behaviour. The reliance on attitudinal and intent based numbers show an unhelpfully rosy picture, create unrealistic expectations. The sales data doesn’t lie and suggests there is much still to do.



In the news... this week some future thoughts




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