As the second country to declare a climate emergency, Ireland is once again on the global stage when it comes to social and political issues and - as always - many citizens will voice their thoughts on the matter with their debit cards. 

When the same device can be used to scroll through news stories and to impulse shop, it seems natural that the choices of more and more shoppers will be governed by their social conscious, something companies are rapidly responding to. 

Take the reusable cup, which is now sold for less than €10 in some shops and comes with a free coffee when purchased in certain cafés. 

woman holding coffee cup
Consumers are shunning items that are causing damage to the environment

On the company's website, Keep Cup - the eponymous reusable coffee cup company that is so popular, it has become a catch-all name for reusable cups - claims that they are "leading the charge to ensure the world no longer needs or wants single-use coffee cups" - a crucial choice of wording that speaks to the new swing in sustainable shopping.

Consumers are shunning items that are causing damage to the environment, in greater and more impassioned numbers. 

Coffee cups are chief offenders, with up to 200 million of the cups thrown away each year in Ireland, which works out as 366 every minute, according to a 2018 study by Recycling List Ireland

In PwC's 2019 Irish Retail and Consumer Report, the company found that 41% of Irish shoppers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable items.

More than this, 32% of respondents said they choose sustainable products to help protect the environment, 49% look for products with environmentally-friendly packaging, compared to 37% globally, while 52% avoid the use of plastic when they can, compared to 41% globally.

"Companies need to be mindful of the growing consciousness of sustainability amongst customers and the need to provide a range of products that are ethically sourced, organic and locally produced", the report said. 

Rachael Stott, Senior Creative Researcher at The Future Laboratory and the company's sustainability expert, spoke to RTÉ Lifestyle about the move towards sustainable shopping, the role guilt plays in influencing shopping trends 

There seems to have been a watershed moment in sustainable shopping, when do you think that was or what caused it? 
Consumers are now clearly seeing the repercussions of overconsumption and our wasteful attitudes. Programmes such as Blue Planet, and initiatives from organisations such as Parley for the Oceans and Fashion Revolution are highlighting and communicating the damage mass-consumerism is causing.

Multiple studies have revealed that consumers increasingly base their purchasing decisions on a brands ethical or moral standpoint, and therefore brands are having to listen and ensure that they are catering to these consumers needs, as they will happily vote with their wallets and spend elsewhere. Also, brands are recognising that sustainability is not an additional factor that is nice to have, it should be integral to their business to ensure that it is successful in the long-term.

Are trends set by younger or older consumers these days? How does that happen?
Trends, in general, aren’t defined by a specific age group or demographic, they are typically driven by psychographic or a group of consumers with a similar innovative mindset. Although this is sometimes within a specific age-group, it tends to be attitude driven.

Is it fair to say that guilt plays a role in how people adopt things like reusable cups and metal straws?
Guilt does have a part to play in driving consumers to being more sustainable, and this goes back to the increased awareness of the negative repercussions of our current lifestyles. However, using shock tactics or guilt-inducing communications isn’t always an effective means to encourage more sustainable behaviour because the problem is then viewed as a scary issue, and it is human nature to run away from this. If there are no clear solutions to fixing the problem, many people go into a state of denial and avoid addressing the issue entirely.

By creating a small amount of guilt but simultaneously providing a solution to this, reusable cups and straws are very accessible solutions to a specific problem, and give consumers a sense of control and a feeling that their behaviour matters. 

How can a new sustainable product take off among people? What or who does it need to appeal to?
Creating new ‘sustainable products’ goes against the very premise of being sustainable and reducing our consumption levels, but if brands rethink existing products and services to use less resources and be more environmentally friendly, consumers see the value in this. Convenience is often a determining factor as to how successful a product is.

At what point does it become clear that sustainable shopping isn’t just a passing fad?
I think it's important not to define sustainability as a trend, and define it as a critical issue that we need to address as a society to protect the planet. I think we will get to a point in society where ‘sustainable’ isn’t a label that is placed on products and services and instead, it will be assumed that a product is ecologically, socially and environmentally sound.