To achieve the goal of sustainable consumption and development, and thus a more circular economy, public and private entities alike have to contribute. Capterra surveyed over 1,000 consumers to learn more about their participation in the sustainable economy.

a study on sustainable consumption in Canada

By 2030, Canada plans to substantially reduce the generation of waste as part of their Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. Through efforts of prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse —four tenets of the circular economy, which we covered in part one of this survey— the government has pledged to achieve zero plastic waste, as well as undertake other initiatives.

Goals of strengthening the circular economy can’t be achieved without participation from private enterprises and consumers, however. Circular economy efforts require investments in new programs and sustainable improvements for companies, like auditing their energy management or managing second-hand inventory. Consumers can shop with companies supporting the circular economy and either resell or donate products to prolong their life cycles. 

To explore the opportunities that exist for SMEs to promote sustainable consumption, we surveyed over 1,000 Canadian consumers (full methodology at the end of this article) on their beliefs and practices regarding the circular economy and sustainability. 

What are consumers’ beliefs regarding sustainable consumption?

Sustainable consumption is based on customers who want to buy products and services made using environmentally friendly and/or ethical practices. “Sustainable consumers” are those especially motivated to shop sustainably, thereby supporting companies who carry out circular economy initiatives. 

The large majority of consumers (87%) surveyed agreed with the belief that “[their] behavior and choices can have a positive impact on addressing global environmental challenges,” showing a high awareness of the need for sustainable consumption. The same number (87%) agreed they would rather buy products from companies with circular economy practices than from one that does not. 

These beliefs may help companies with such practices in place appeal to sustainable shoppers. Some examples of sustainable products currently available include:

  • Zero-kilometre products
  • Products made with sustainable ingredients
  • Products made with recycled components
  • Remanufactured/refurbished products
  • Products from companies that offer buy-back or recycling programs
  • Food products from companies aiming to reduce food waste
Tip for SMEs: There are many more examples of sustainable consumption than those listed above. To consider the strides your company can make in this direction, sustainability software can help analyze current processes and operations and suggest improvements to implement.

What are Canadians’ sustainable habits?

As stated, consumer participation is paramount to ensuring some circular economy measures. Depending on Canadians’ habits, certain programs may be more viable than others. 

The most common sustainable habits amongst Canadians surveyed dealt with their own recycling habits, such as 79% who separate their waste and recycling and 78% who avoid putting plastic grocery bags into the recycling system by bringing reusable ones to the shop.

sustainable shopping habits canada

Kilometre-zero products

One in five consumers (20%) reported buying local or kilometre-zero products on a regular basis. Another 55% said they “sometimes” buy these products, showing that many consumers prioritize these options at least partially when they’re available. 

As three-quarters of respondents buy local products with varying frequency, supporting nearby SMEs seems to be a factor in many Canadians’ purchasing decisions. If an organization is able to switch their model to a locally sourced one, such information should be used in packaging materials to maximize appeal to the sustainable consumer.

Buy-back programs

A quarter of consumers surveyed (25%) participated in buy-back programs sometimes, while only 8% could say they did so routinely. In fact, most consumers surveyed (36%) had never participated in a buy-back program.

Despite the lack of participation in buy-back programs, many Canadian respondents expressed a desire to do so. When asked if they actively cared about extending the life cycle of their products, 88% agreed with this sentiment to some degree.

sustainable consumption examples from consumers in Canada

With a strong interest in product recycling but low participation in buy-back programs, there may be a lack of opportunities for consumers to reintroduce their products back into the manufacturing cycle. For organizations considering implementing a buy-back or trade-in program, product lifecycle management tools can help reconfigure the design, manufacturing, and inventory processes to support a new model.

Reducing food waste

When it comes to sustainable consumption within the food industry, participation is low. Mobile applications designed to combat food waste, such as TooGoodToGo and FlashFood, help connect consumers to food that would otherwise be thrown away. More than a quarter of respondents (27%) are aware of such apps, but only 26% of those aware are currently using them.

While current support of anti-food waste measures is small, raising awareness could change that. Nearly half of respondents (47%) weren’t aware of mobile apps reducing food waste, but would be interested in using them. Perhaps reaching sustainable consumers via mobile marketing efforts, where they could possibly download such apps, could bring more Canadians to learn about and participate in anti-food waste measures.

Companies who implement programs that help reduce food waste could see an increase in their customer base. 30% of surveyed consumers said they would definitely spend money at a business with anti-food waste measures, while 51% they might patronize such a business if it were convenient.

The second-hand economy in Canada

Compared to other countries where we launched this survey, Canadians are more likely to participate in the second-hand economy than others. Two-thirds of Canadians surveyed (63%) buy second-hand products at least sometimes, which is 12 percentage points higher than consumers in Germany and France.

second hand economy in canada

With high support of the second-hand market, it’s worth a deeper look into the exact touchpoints and methods consumers are using to interact with it.

Second-hand buying habits

Out of Canadians who shop second-hand at least occasionally (which was all but 7% of survey-takers), more than half (56%) find themselves purchasing used books. Other common second-hand purchases included:

  • Clothing (52%)
  • Furniture (50%)
  • Electronics (36%)

Most second-hand shoppers surveyed (64%) bought their products from physical stores, such as vintage and second-hand specialty stores. The next most popular place for used products amongst survey-takers (59%) is via online marketplaces that offer a variety of second-hand products, such as Kijiji or eBay

When asked their thoughts on the vendors who sell second-hand products, most shoppers surveyed (56%) didn’t have a preference. However, a third of respondents (33%) indicated they’d prefer to buy used products from a marketplace or multi-brand store. Far fewer respondents, only 11%, preferred to buy directly from the manufacturing brand. This may be due to the unique nature of second-hand goods: since these products are often one-of-a-kind, consumers might prefer browsing a larger variety before finding the right product. 

Tip for SMEs: Keeping the one-of-a-kind nature of second-hand products is vital for any company wishing to sell such goods. When listing used products online, inventory management is of utmost importance, as second-hand products can’t simply be restocked if oversold. 

Second-hand selling habits

Businesses aren’t the only group capable of selling products in second-hand markets. Individuals can also contribute to the sales side of sustainable consumption, and many consumers currently do or have in the past.

how often environmentally conscious consumers sell products

Overall, 79% of surveyed consumers have sold second-hand items at least once in the past. Even more consumers (86%) agreed to varying degrees that they often donate products they no longer use, showing that much of the population has helped uphold the circular economy in Canada.

Looking at consumers who do not participate in this side of ethical shopping, over a quarter (28%) said they choose not to because they’d rather give or throw away unused items rather than sell them. Many second-hand marketplaces and social media sites have options for listing free items, and it’s possible some unwanted items are circling their way back to the market.

Tip for SMEs: If your business sources used products as part of its supply chain, using an inventory tool for consignment shops and thrift stores can help managers with the accounting, inventory, and point of sale operations specific to their niche.

Takeaways for SMEs

When considering how to appeal and market to the sustainable consumer, analyzing the habits of our study has given a few clues. The Canadians surveyed seem to participate or express interest in a variety of circular economy activities, such as:

  • Buying kilometre-zero/local products
  • Participating in buy-back programs
  • Reducing food waste
  • Buying and selling in the second-hand economy

Whether looking to implement sustainable consumption models into an existing business or start an entirely new venture, business processes must be paid special attention to. Practical ideas can be implemented into existing processes like inventory, or new policies created such as product lifecycle management. To avoid claims of greenwashing from consumers, back up claims of sustainability with transparent explanations of the steps your company is taking in this regard. 

Looking for inventory management software? Check out our catalogue!

Survey methodology:

Capterra’s Circular Economy Survey was launched online in July and August 2022 in the following countries: Canada (1,006 participants), France (1,010 participants), Germany (1,010 participants) and the UK (1,027 participants). The 4,053 candidates had to fulfill the following criteria:

  • Resident in Canada, France, Germany, or the UK
  • At least 18 years old
  • Must have submitted their generation identity
  • Understands the concept of a circular economy (after being shown a definition, respondents were able to select the correct description of a circular economy from a choice of three)