How COVID-19 Has Affected Americans' Thoughts on Sustainability

Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling says the collective consciousness on sustainability is rising.
Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling says the collective consciousness on sustainability is rising.

New research from Genomatica has revealed that amid the COVID-19 pandemic Americans are considering sustainability a top-of-mind issue and demanding prioritization of the topic by brands and the government. 

With effects of the pandemic revealing less traffic, cleaner air and more plastic waste, 85% of Americans reported thinking the same amount or more about sustainability.

More than half (56%) of Americans want both the government and brands to prioritize sustainability even while facing other issues.

Americans’ support for sustainability promises to have staying power

  • 86% of Americans say sustainability will be equally or more important when the pandemic subsides;
  • 48% of those who’ve been more sustainable say they’re inspired to find ways to keep being sustainable;
  • 42% realize being sustainable is easier than they thought;
  • 59% of those who admit being less sustainable during COVID-19 say they don’t like it, with 43% calling it a “necessary evil” and 36% saying they feel guilty about it.

Americans believe life at home is more sustainable

  • 59% of Americans say working from home is more sustainable than working in an office, with just 13% disagreeing
    • No need to commute (85%)
    • Using less energy to heat and cool large workplaces (64%)

Americans who have been more sustainable lately cite driving less as the number one reason (68%), followed by buying less stuff (54%), throwing fewer things away (42%), not commuting (41%) and flying less (37%).

Americans seek more sustainable products—but are hesitant to return to the sharing economy or public transit

  • 37% of Americans are willing to pay a little more for sustainable products, even during an economic downturn—and across age groups, Gen Z is the most willing (43%).
  • Of Americans who have been more sustainable lately, 32% say it’s because they’re buying more sustainable products.
  • 82% of Americans trust natural-based cleaners to protect against COVID-19.
  • 50% of Americans are comfortable using natural cleaning products today and even more (60%) will be comfortable using reusable bags at the store as soon as they’re allowed to.
  • Half of Americans won’t be comfortable using sharing economy services like Uber or Airbnb (53%), riding public transportation (54%) or carpooling (50%) until there is a vaccine, if ever.

“The collective consciousness on sustainability is rising, and certainly faster than most would have expected during these unprecedented times,” Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling said. “While this shift has been underway for decades, and particularly strong in Europe, many of us in the U.S. have been inspired by the rapid improvement in air quality and traffic that shine a bright light on how our behaviors and decisions impact our environment and quality of life. As brands are learning, Americans are increasingly spending in line with their values, fueling a ray of hope in a tough year.”

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