“What am I buying”? This is the question that Italian consumers are increasingly asking. Whether it is purchases in the agricultural and food sector, or when choosing an electric provider, or organizing a holiday, the trend is clear: Italians have started making more and more aware and sustainable choices in terms of consumption.
The 2018 report “Sustainable Consumption in Italy” carried out by O.C.I.S., an international observatory for social cohesion, records an impressive figure: 63.4% of citizens say they have adopted responsible consumption practices, compared to the 36.6 % that have not. But that hasn’t always been the case. Just compare the current data with that of an observatory research dating back to 2002, when only 28.5% claimed to have made responsible consumption choices.
Purchasing and consumption choices are very important both from an environmental and social point of view. Consuming responsibly, wondering what the true cost of the products we buy is, recognizing that what we buy is the result of the work of a chain of people that can affect the health and well-being of people and the planet, is now a practice popular among Italians.
Luca Raffaele, managing director at Next – Nuova Economia per tutti – an association founded in 2011 to promote and create a more inclusive, participatory and sustainable economy, compared to the traditional model, which focuses on maximizing individual profit, without taking into account the environment and people – says: «This trend is destined to become more and more intense».
According to the report, 30,3% of people have adopted – even temporarily – critical consumer choices, i.e. purchasing goods and services from companies that claim to comply with the ban on child labor exploitation, limit environmental pollution and devote a portion of their surplus for charitable purposes. The number of people who have purchased – even only occasionally – fair trade genres are 37,3%.
51,7% based consumption choices on environmental sobriety – buying goods and services paying attention to energy consumption and the fact that they produce little waste. 7,5%. has said they prefer responsible tourism trips, choosing a type of holiday that aims to limit travel to non-democratic countries, while getting in touch with the customs and traditions of poorer countries and promoting the activity of the local ethical economy. Finally, 10,6% of the total number of respondents have purchased products through Gruppi d’Acquisto Solidale (Solidarity Buying Groups).
There is a difference between the intention to consciously purchase a product or service and the actual purchase
The trend seems also to be confirmed by a survey published by Oxfam in collaboration with Federconsumatori: 74,41% of Italian consumers, according to the survey, are willing to buy a product free of worker exploitation, regardless of the price. Only 21,8% claimed that the price factor is still crucial to their choice. At the same time – despite the majority of consumers surveyed (51,67%) feeling fairly informed about the issue of exploitation in agricultural supply chains – 8 out of 10 (78,20% of the sample) say they do not have adequate information to be able to recognize products that ensure a fair redistribution of value among all players in the supply chain on supermarket shelves.
«But beware»,Tor Vergata's Economist Leonardo Becchetti, Next's scientific director, explains: «there is a difference between the intention to buy an ethical product or service and the actual purchase. There is definitely more awareness of these issues, but sensitivity towards sustainable choices needs to increase. This process has been accelerated thanks to the 2030 Agenda, which has focused its attention on the environmental issue: the climate emergency is perceived as linked to the issue of health».
2010 was an emblematic and turning point year for consumer choices: «After the 2008 crisis», Luca Raffaele explains, «we have returned to a local development logic. The next step is to make it clear that all sectors and territories are connected and that sustainable choices are not just for the agricultural and food sector».
In order to continue on this path, however, we need more awareness not only from consumers, but also and above all, from producers: «In Italy», Luca Raffaele continues, «people who shop daily – especially in the food sector – do not get a clear picture from the product label. What we are buying may well be sustainable, but if the same company exploits its workers and throws waste on the street, how can the consumer know?».
Companies need to therefore completely rethink the way they promote products. «Stop focusing on pushing the lowest price», Raffaele suggests. «Let's focus on promotions based on the social value generated by the company and above allow the consumer to know all the steps that lead to the finished product. This goes for big business. On the other hand, we need to support small local businesses to increase the basket of products in order leave behind the idea that "sustainable means niche"».
*The data was collected through a survey promoted by the Observatory for Cohesion and Social Inclusion (OCIS) and conducted by SWG in early February 2018 with CAWI methodology on a sample of 1,000 Italian citizens over the age of 18, with proportional population quotas in terms of gender, age group and area of residence.