Now more than ever, we see daily reminders of the huge challenges facing our planet from news of floods and fires to warnings of irreversible damage to the ozone layer. Combine that, with continual social media alerts reminding us of the injustices many workers face from the gender pay gap and poor working conditions, and things can feel more than a little overwhelming. It can cause us to feel powerless and question how much of a difference can we all make?
But the good news is - we can make a difference. As individuals, as households, as workforces and as communities. We carried out some research with 2000 people in the UK, exploring how people’s attitudes have changed and the power our everyday actions and decisions can have, especially when it comes to investing.
What is Conscious Living?
Conscious living, often referred to in the UK as sustainable living, is about the small daily decisions we make that, collectively, make a big difference for us and the planet.
The idea of living consciously –– is gathering momentum globally. It can often be the case that, even when our individual actions feel like they have less impact, our behaviour may encourage others to act and the more people that act - the bigger the difference. Ultimately, it’s about recognising the power of our own decisions.
These decisions can range from whether we have parcels delivered straight to our door or if we save on delivery driver Co2 emissions and collect them ourselves through to repairing instead of replacing clothing.
We have teamed up with Ase Greenacre, Concious Living advocate at MRT Consultants. As part of her job, Ase helps people become aware of their own impact and choices in lives. Ase has been looking at our findings and commented:
"A conscious way of living is to live with purposeful and considered actions. We include with this being mindful of your choices and decisions. Being cognisant and actively aware of what you do. What do you spend your money on? What do you invest in? Do you consider and pay attention to all living experiences, for yourself - to others and to the planet? Every small decision and every small step counts. It all adds up to what you are doing on a da-to-day basis to live consciously, but also with a clear conscience that you are playing your part to keep all our lives sustainable." - Ase Greenacre
The impact of the pandemic on Conscious Living
It is unlikely that the last couple of years will be remembered by any of us fondly. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world. Global economies have been hit and many people have been struggling, whether that is through ill health, job losses, mental wellbeing or something else.
However, one of the very few ‘up-sides’ of collectively staying at home and not travelling was the slight improvement in air quality. This is a step in the right direction but we have a long way to go. It’s also made us much more aware of our planet, and encouraged us to make small, but positive changes.
As life slowly returns to normal, how will consumers decide to live more consciously? And how does this daily behaviour translate to our families and our finances?
Our survey looked at people’s awareness of Conscious Living
How conscious is your region?
How are people living consciously?
Three-in-five people surveyed (61%) spend money on goods or services that they know are ethical or sustainable. This is made up of 11% who do it often, 30% sometimes and 20% who say they do, but not very often.
Younger people (those aged 18-24) are more likely (77%), above all other age groups, to spend money on goods or services that they know are ethical or sustainable.
Being less wasteful is key to living consciously
Being less wasteful (66%), protecting the environment (62%) and reducing your carbon footprint (59%) are all seen as closely linked to living consciously or sustainably by the public. However, volunteering (11%) and closing the gender pay gap (10%) are not seen as activities tied to this, even if they are popular topics.
Living consciously nudges
When it comes to specific actions, people are most likely to say that they take bags to the supermarket (67%) and recycle (56%) all the time. At the other end of the spectrum, three-quarters (76%) say they never drive a hybrid or electric vehicle.
When asked what those surveyed could, or would consider, doing more often:
Influences to living consciously
Over half of people surveyed (52%) use their own moral compass to make sustainable decisions day to day, with friends (19%), the media (16%) and charities (15%) interestingly all having a far lower influence. Nearly three-in-four (73%) believe our individual actions will collectively have an impact, although 49% of people say that is only if enough of us do it correctly.
Only one-in-five people (17%) do not think we can make an impact on the wider world or environment.
"Most things that will eventually make a big difference start small. Rather than making a big change which can be hard to accept and appreciate, it's easier to live with and integrate small changes in order for them to become part of everyday life. Yet again our minds play a big part in this. The bigger and more obvious a change is, the harder it is to accept. The smaller changes somehow seep into our minds easier and suddenly become the norm. Every journey needs to start with just the first step forward." - Ase Greenacre
Barriers to sustainable choices
Almost a third (32%) think they do enough already to live sustainably. However, there is a big generational divide on this with more than half (52%) of 65-74-year olds think they do enough, compared to just 14% of 18-24-year olds.
More women than men say they can’t afford to live sustainably (31% vs 23%). Young people are also more likely to report that they can’t afford to (37%, compared to 27% nationally).
Should we pay more to live consciously?
More than a quarter (28%) say things are expensive enough as they are, but 21% think we should pay to protect our planet for future generations.
22% think people should be incentivised or rewarded for living more sustainably.
71% of people say they would be more likely to live sustainably if they knew it would not cost them any more money
Two-thirds (68%) of people think there is not enough information available about conscious or sustainable living, whilst 48% believe it is too hard and expensive.
The impact of Covid-19
For over a third (36%), Covid-19 has changed how they feel about the impact made on the environment. Slightly more women than men feel Covid-19 has had an impact (38% vs 33%), and this also increases with income, with 60% of those earning between £60,000 and £100,000 having changed their outlook, compared to just 29% of those earning less than £20,000.
Looking at post-Covid changes, 43% will be looking to reduce household consumption, while buying fewer clothes and recycling more (both 40%) were also popular. Interestingly more women than men say they’ll buy and wear less clothes – 44% vs 36%. More women than men also say they’ll reduce their household consumption (46% vs 39%). Women are also leading the way on switching to more sustainable goods (41% vs 37%).
"Lockdown kept people indoors, but it also had them reaching out. Looking out for your neighbour and supporting key workers but also focusing outward on the global impact. Our local shops became first port of call and we found some industries of fruit and veg, bee keeping, eggs and all sorts popping up all over the UK. People started sharing food and resources, time and support. We became connected in a way that was unprecedented. Awareness of others and a global unity has prevailed through shared priorities and a heightened need to support each other and to play our parts in making the world sustainable." - Ase Greenacre
How does living consciously translate into investing?
Many people are now looking to invest their money not only for potential returns but also to create positive outcomes for people and the planet. Helping to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing this world. And because there is a growing demand to invest in this way, it drives more and more companies and projects to help find solutions to some of these challenges.
From pioneering healthcare solutions to enabling others to reduce their carbon emissions, companies are looking to create a better future.
By investing in these companies people help make a difference for the future.
There are many investments now that look to have a positive effect on people and the planet. There are three key areas that are generally considered within these investments:
- the environment, this includes things such as levels of carbon emissions produced,
- things that help society for example working with local communities
- companies with robust controls (governance) for example, ensuring transparency in supply chains
These are known as ESG (Environmental, Society and Governance) criteria.
Amongst those who have investments, only 30% say they invest in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) criteria. However, 60% say they do not know where their money is invested.
Considerations for ESG investing
According to our survey the main influence on people wanting to invest sustainably is their own moral compass (44%), ahead of friends (16%) and wider family members (13%). 30% say their investments are sustainable, of which more men than women agree with this (38% 23%).
When asked what would encourage you to invest more sustainably, those with investments said knowing that it will not negatively impact their returns (33%) was the key consideration. Developing their knowledge of the options (28%) and knowing their investments will make a difference for the better (27%) were also popular.
Those that don’t invest sustainably say they need more information to be able to make a decision (22%), or they don’t know how to go about it (19%).More women than men say they don’t know how to go about it (22% vs 14%), and the same number don’t know how to.
Three-quarters (75%) of people think that children should be taught about sustainable investing, whilst the same percentage (75%) believe it is everybody’s responsibility to live a conscious or sustainable life.
More than half (57%) of people say they would avoid investing in a company, shopping at a store or banking with a company if they knew they acted in an environmentally irresponsible manner. 44% believe that investments should have to include a portion within sustainable funds.
How your money can make a difference
It is not only our day to day actions that can make a difference but where we put our money can also help create a brighter future.
Find out more about investing for good in our short video.
Prudential surveyed 2,005 nationally representative UK adults between 28th May and 2nd June 2021, using the research agency Opinium.
Read more about sustainable investing