A recent survey by DNV — an independent assurance and risk management provider that operates in more than 100 countries — reveals that consumer knowledge of circular economy is growing and their attitude towards it is generally positive. However, trust in companies requires strengthening, and more innovation and legislation is needed to drive increased engagement and action.

“Awareness is key but, subsequent consumer behavior influenced by the knowledge they have is crucial to making the circular economy a reality. Ultimately, it is this knowledge is that will inspire consumer action to engage in recycling or take-back efforts or try out innovative circular products or services,” says Luca Crisciotti, CEO of Supply Chain & Product Assurance in DNV. 

Encouragingly, only 35.8% had not heard of circular economy. Of those that had, 45% indicated they have extensive knowledge and actively participate.  Knowledge and engagement appear to be higher among the younger generations with more than 53% saying they actively participated. Only 32.4% in the oldest grouping said the same.

The survey reflects that consumers are mostly gaining information from media and social media channels (60.9%), with 26.8% from political discussion 23% through friends. Only 1 in 5 respondents mentioned information coming from manufacturers and suppliers directly, highlighting businesses may need to do more to get their message out and build trust.

“Manufacturers and companies have to drive circular economy transition. However, this is not possible without consumer participation. Thus, more must be done to fill the information gap, ensure that consumer awareness is a priority and provide validated, trusted information,” says Crisciotti. 

Clearly, consumers are beginning to consider the impact of their purchasing behaviors. As many as 48.1% said they buy products with recycled properties and 62.9% prefer to buy less or go for second-hand products. Behavioral patterns, upbringing and purchasing power seem to play a role. Those above 55 years of age do more repairs than their younger counterparts. The younger generations tend to buy more second-hand and rent instead of owning. This could reflect a mix of it new fashion trends and economic power. 

A number of aspects influence consumers when deciding on whether to buy circular fashion products.  Information on ecological footprint is very important (49.1%). It is closely followed by working and labor conditions, quality of the product, certifications, verified labels and validated sustainability claims.  

In the area of fashion, the primary reasons for choosing a circular product are still style and the price. Contributing towards environmental and circular causes ranks third. Price is especially relevant for the younger generations, which could potentially be linked to their purchasing power. 

While consumers are not willing to go circular at any cost, it is interesting that when asked about plastic circularity, for example, they perceive most alternatives to single-use plastic as circular and sustainable. This provides an opportunity for the companies to adapt and consider business model innovation, focusing on the efforts that yield the most return.