10 minute read 9 Nov 2023
Portrait of a confident woman with bag standing at subway tunnel

EY Future Consumer Index: when talk turns into action, be set for change

By Kristina Rogers

EY Global Consumer Leader

Global leader for consumer industries. Marketing strategist. Worked in 20 countries. Harvard MBA. Photographer. Scuba diver. Canadian fiction reader. Mother of two.

10 minute read 9 Nov 2023

Climate change is becoming a growing reality for people around the world, and disrupting ingrained consumption habits.

In brief
  • Many consumers have already been forced to change how they live and what they buy because of the impact of climate change, according to EY global research.
  • People are increasingly willing to pick sustainable products and to pay more for them, although this is still a growing minority view.
  • Consumers are worried about the health of the planet and expect companies to show more leadership to reduce negative impact and increase positive impact.

We're living in a decade defined by change, uncertainty and instability, but also by resilience. Through the economic and geopolitical disruption that followed the global COVID-19 pandemic, people have shown time and again they have an extraordinary ability to adapt. The best companies have shown this too. Over the last few years, they’ve worked hard to stay relevant as consumer needs, behaviors and budgets have changed, and in many ways transformed.

Now we could be on the brink of another historic disruption, one that could test that resilience and adaptability to its limits. This latest edition of the EY Future Consumer Index explores the ways that people around the world are changing their behavior in response to the growing reality of climate change.

The Index shows the extent to which consumers are feeling the impact of a changing climate in their daily lives. The increasing frequency of high temperatures, fires, droughts, floods and strong winds are affecting their homes and livelihoods, their access to water, the food they normally buy, the cost of everyday items, and their plans for the future. Many people are actively thinking about changing how they live and consume.

Some are following up with action, and the direction of travel is becoming clear. The Index reveals signs of a shift from mitigation to adaptation, from “I’ll do what I can to reduce the effects of future climate change” to “I need to make changes because climate change is impacting me now.” We’re seeing this pivot across all geographies and generations.

As a result, consumers are forming new attitudes around what they are willing to pay for sustainability, how closely they will scrutinize brands, and what companies they trust. These changes in attitudes will ultimately become changes in behavior. How quickly and how significantly remains to be seen, but our data suggests another wave of disruption is about to break.

  • Methodology

    In September 2023, EY conducted wave 13 of a consumer survey tracking changing sentiment and behaviors across time horizons and global markets, and identifying new consumer segments that are emerging.

    Future Consumer Index provides regular longitudinal indicators and a unique perspective on changes which are temporary reactions to a current disruption and those which point to more fundamental shifts. Through an anonymous on-line survey, 22,000 unique responses were collected from consumers ranging in age from 18 to 80.

    Respondents represent 28 countries across the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Vietnam, Nigeria and South Korea. 

By choice or necessity, consumption habits are changing

Consumer products companies and retailers can’t ignore the large percentages of consumers who are thinking about changing their lifestyles and consumption habits in response to climate change, which have now reached significant levels. Some consumers have already made changes out of necessity, and more are likely to follow.

For example, 42% are thinking of changing the food they eat because climate change has pushed up prices or limited availability, and 29% have been forced to make new choices already. The proportion that has already started to buy products that protect them from a changing climate is also high, at 25%. 

  • Open image description#Close image description

    This chart lists the types of measures consumers are taking because they feel the impact of climate change. For example, activities include adapting a place of residence to account for climate change, accessing healthcare due to climate related illness or disease and purchasing survival kit(s). The chart shows that although some consumers have not thought about taking measures (ranges between 29% and 65%), many have thought it (ranges between 25% and 42%) and some have even taken action (ranges between 10% and 29%).

    The second chart shows the percentage of consumers who are feeling impacted by climate change impacts, for example, by extreme weather events (45%), water shortages (44%), or crop and harvest changes (43%).

Awareness of climate impact is growing fast

While consumers say — understandably — that the state of their finances and the wider economy are front of mind, they’re increasingly worried about climate change.

Because of their financial concerns, they’re spending more time at home and 74% say they plan to buy less in future. For 73%, that’s an effort to save money, and 49% feel they don’t need those items anyway. But 39% are trying to buy less to help the environment.

Analysis of consumer conversations in English on social media shows growing discussion about weather and climate change, with significant peaks during summertime in the northern hemisphere. 

  • Open image description#Close image description

    This chart shows year on year analysis of consumer conversations in English on social media and the growing discussion about weather and climate change, with significant peaks during summer time in the northern hemisphere. 

This greater awareness of the impact of climate change is influencing consumer priorities and driving new buying behaviors. Globally, consumers are feeling the impact on their wallets, but also on their mental and physical well-being.

Not surprisingly, the effect that climate change is having on them personally is reflected in what they perceive to be the most important sustainability issues to solve. Their priorities are combating climate change, good health and wellbeing for all and affordable clean energy. 

  • Open image description#Close image description

    This chart explores the top sustainability issues consumers believe society should address. It covers 19 countries and shows the share of consumers who rank each issue in their top three more important. For example, for US consumers, clean water and sanitation is the top priority (27%), but for consumers in Canada it’s combating climate change and impacts (37%). For consumers in China sustainable ecosystems and biodiversity (35%) is the top issue, but for Australian consumers it’s affordable and clean energy (32%).

Different generations favor different responses

It’s often assumed that younger generations will drive a shift to more sustainable consumption, and the Index shows they are thinking about making dramatic changes in response to climate change. For example, 44% of consumers aged 18-42 (Gen Z and Millennials) have relocated or are thinking about relocating to an area with a milder climate and 58% have adapted or are thinking about adapting their homes.

But the Index also suggests people of every generation want to do something. When it comes to behaviors like using less plastic, recycling more or conserving water, it’s older consumers who are leading the way. Younger consumers are more focused on buying better quality, checking the sustainability of brands, and telling their friends what to buy.

  • Open image description#Close image description

    The chart considers the different types of sustainability interventions preferred by different generational groups. It shows that older generations prefer to make lifestyle changes including recycling, conserving energy and water, and repairing products. And younger generations prefer to take steps to hold companies to account – for example, avoiding buying brands that are harmful to the environment and validating sustainability claims.

    The chart also explores general attitudes towards sustainable products – for some, they make them feel more positive about the brand, and more inclined to purchase the product.

Overall, consumers are planning to buy less and buy better. Many want to switch to products that align with their new values, priorities, and lifestyles and some will pay extra for that if necessary. This is especially true for younger consumers.

Quality and value for money remain the most important reasons for switching to a different product. But 44% say they will choose a more sustainable alternative if they can, and the percentage of consumers willing to pay a premium for sustainable products and services has steadily increased, from 24% in February 2022 to 32%.

  • Open image description#Close image description

    This chart covers product features that consumers are willing to pay more for. For example, consumers say that they’ll pay more for higher quality, and for products that promote health and wellness, a trusted brand, or sustainable goods and services. It also shows that this sentiment has grown between February 2022 and October 2023. For example, willingness to pay more for brands I trust has grown from 25% to 35% during this period.

    The second chart takes the same product features and looks at willingness to pay more by generations. Gen Z are more willing to pay a premium except for products made in my country (which is highest amongst Baby Boomers).

Consumer products companies are responding by creating new products or reformulating existing ones to make them healthier and more sustainable, so they can protect their profitability and the brand experience. Here trust is a critical factor.

Over the last 18 months, the percentage of consumers who would pay more to buy a brand they trust has increased significantly. People are more informed now about what sustainability means and they have better access to information to assess whether a brand is living up to its promises. Younger consumers are far more active when it comes to checking what companies are doing and saying in this area.

Whether they get that information from the brand itself, from their friends, or from influencers on social media, it’s having an impact on their perceptions and choices. Nearly a third (31%) of Gen Z consumers, for example, have stopped buying from a brand or bought less from it because it wasn’t doing enough to help the environment.

Who will lead and who will follow?

The growing desire to live and consume more sustainably reflects people’s deeper worries about the environment. Sixty-seven percent say they’re concerned about the fragility of the planet, and only 34% say their government is taking enough action. But how committed are consumers to making a difference?

Many (59%) say they are interested in sustainability actions that save them money or don’t cost them anything. So, they will comply with government or corporate interventions designed to encourage sustainable behavior — like recycling initiatives — as long as these actions don’t require too much thought or effort.

While 56% believe consumers should be pushing companies to achieve better social and environmental outcomes, i.e., consumer pressure is needed to make change happen, 77% say it’s down to government and 73% say companies need to lead the change. Consumers want to see companies use of renewable energy and more efficient, or reduced, use of water.

  • Open image description#Close image description

    This chart explores, by country, what consumers believe are the top issues for companies to address. It covers 19 countries and shows the share of consumers who rank each issue in their top three for companies to solve. For consumers in the UK, it’s reducing waste (28%); in France, it’s reducing soil and water pollution (26%), but in Denmark, it’s using renewable sources of energy (31%). For South Korea, it’s reducing greenhouse gas emissions (39%), but in Nigeria it’s to stop selling products that contain harmful / unsustainable ingredients (32%).

There’s an important gap in expectations here, as separate EY research (CEO Outlook Pulse, July 2023) shows that 60% of consumer CEOs believe sustainability and ESG risks will impact their business performance over the next 12 months, but they are not able to prioritize the climate crisis over other risks. When it comes to allocating capital, most are giving sustainability the same level of priority as any other business initiative. Only 15% are dedicating substantial resources to sustainability initiatives, with 9% saying they are not a priority.

  • Open image description#Close image description

    This chart looks at data from the EY CEO Outlook Pulse Survey (July 2023). It shows that a significant percentage of Consumer CEOs (ranges between 59% and 62%) see risks to their business from a variety of sources including regulatory risk; macroeconomic / market volatility; technology, cyber, digital disruption risk; geopolitical / trade conflicts; and ESG / sustainability risk.

    Faced by such a variety of risks to prioritize, the second chart shows how Consumer CEOs are having to take a practical approach to funding their sustainability initiatives with 32% saying they divide capital equally to support sustainability initiatives and other business priorities.

This might be understandable. In a difficult economic and geopolitical context, business leaders are focused on challenges that can feel more immediate, according to World Economic Forum research. This suggests CEOs are as worried about geopolitical conflict, market volatility, regulatory risk and technology risk as they are about sustainability.

But the climate challenge is unavoidable. That same WEF research shows business leaders expect climate change to be the most severe global risk over the next decade, followed by extreme weather and biodiversity loss. Moreover, they believe that in the second half of the decade the top five risks will all be related to climate change, environmental damage or biodiversity loss.

Other risks may pass, but sustainability will only grow as a priority

The disruptive impact of economic or political cycles comes and goes. But the impact and importance of climate change will only grow in prominence, especially as people feel the tangible impact of climate change and the regulatory need to mitigate it becomes more urgent. Here are some insights and imperatives to consider:

  • Change the way you do business
    Companies planning for climate mitigation are doing so to prevent a future catastrophe, but change is happening now and it will impact the way you do business. From supply chain disruption to worker safety, the failure to take measures to adapt your business to the reality of climate change will cost more if you don’t invest now. Simply put, invest now or invest more later.
  • Change what you sell
    Consumers are increasingly looking to products and services that can help them adapt to the changes they are seeing, from smaller things like sunscreen to bigger spending like flood and storm protection. Companies will need to think about which products will become more, or less, relevant as our environment changes.
  • Adapt while you mitigate
    You can’t choose between adaption and mitigation but must manage both at the same time. Adapting for climate change while not seeking to mitigate it will only drive more need for adaptation and accelerate the pace of change. Companies must balance action to slow, or reverse, the pace of change alongside adapting to the impact of climate change.
  • Be bold — look beyond tomorrow
    Playing it safe will not create long-term sustainable value. Companies that don’t make longer-term plans will be doing too little too late when the time for action becomes acute. But almost half (49%) of consumer products CEOs (from the July EY CEO Outlook Pulse) plan to optimize key parts of their business and operating model instead of implementing fundamental changes. Adapting to climate change will require leaders to pursue new ways of creating products and services to deliver value for consumers, stakeholders and investors. 

Special thanks to the following individuals who contributed greatly to the development of the EY Future Consumer Index – the survey, analysis and insights: Marie Bos, EY Global Consumer Senior Analyst;  Andreas Waelchli, EY Global Consumer Analyst; Rebecca Edwards, Global Consumer Marketing Leader.


The latest edition of the EY Future Consumer Index shows how climate change is becoming a growing reality for people around the world, and is starting to disrupt ingrained consumption habits. Many consumers have already been forced to change how they live and what they buy, and many more are actively thinking about it. It’s not just younger consumers who are pushing for a healthier planet; people across the generations are trying to make a difference in their own ways. But many are looking for companies to take a bolder lead.

About this article

By Kristina Rogers

EY Global Consumer Leader

Global leader for consumer industries. Marketing strategist. Worked in 20 countries. Harvard MBA. Photographer. Scuba diver. Canadian fiction reader. Mother of two.