How B.C. retailers can better serve today’s sustainability-focused consumer

As vaccinations roll out worldwide and society moves towards some form of normalcy, consumer demands continue to shift as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some consumers will go back to previous habits, other trends that have emerged and strengthened over the last year will persist. 

The digital consumer is here to stay. Not only are consumers purchasing more products online and having them delivered to their homes, but they’re also spending more time researching and understanding the brands and companies behind the goods they buy. And with the Internet’s endless supply of information, consumers are doing more due diligence by vetting brands on an increasingly critical test for businesses: their values and what they stand for on key environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues like climate change. 

The sustainability imperative

As awareness about the impacts of climate change continues to rise, British Columbians increasingly acknowledge the need to adapt their way of life.

Many of the biggest brands in Canada are very aware of how important these issues have become to B.C. consumers, with some of the key locally based companies embracing more sustainable materials, recycled products, renewable energy practices and more. Many retail players are also highlighting their strategies so they can win over digital consumers who are focusing more than ever on doing business with brands they trust. 

The growing focus on sustainability was reflected in PwC’s recent Canadian Consumer Insights surveys. In last year’s report, 49% of respondents said they expected businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact. This number rose to 57% for respondents in Vancouver. 

Similar trends were seen this year. In PwC’s 2021 Canadian Consumer Insights report, 49% of consumers surveyed said they buy from companies that are conscious and supportive of protecting the environment. Another 46% are intentionally buying items with environmentally friendly or less packaging. 

Rising to the challenge

The challenge now is for Canadian retailers to better align their businesses with these trends. 

Canadian retail executives do have these issues on their agendas. In PwC’s 2021 CEO Survey, 81% of Canadian consumer markets CEOs said they were extremely or somewhat concerned about climate change and environmental damage. But they have some way to go in translating that into action: only 36% plan to increase their long-term investments in sustainability and ESG initiatives over the next three years as a result of COVID-19.

There’s a particularly significant gap when comparing Canadian consumer markets CEOs to their global counterparts. Globally, 52% of consumer markets CEOs are looking to increase investments in sustainability and ESG initiatives, which shows there’s plenty of room to do more here in Canada.

Key actions for B.C. retailers

With consumer behaviours continuing to shift as retailers plan for the economy to reopen, companies can take steps now to better align their brands with what their customers are looking for. How can you meet the expectations of today’s digital consumer?

  • Drive ESG performance through your strategy and operations
    Take the first-mover advantage by adapting and incorporating good practices early to get ahead of those who wait until government mandates or shareholder values dictate change. Think beyond financial considerations and fully embed ESG performance into your strategy, which includes accounting for all of the environmental impacts across your business so you’re ready to capture the right opportunities as they arise. This will help you run a stronger business as you contribute to building a better world.
  • Stay accountable and share a transparent ESG story
    Increase transparency in your supply chain to create greater accountability and incorporate sustainability. Measure and proactively disclose your progress to employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers and the world.
  • Move quickly using trusted data
    Use the right data to act faster in making ESG-driven changes to your operations, value chain and organization.

A time to be bold

Now is the perfect time to reposition or embolden your brand’s commitment to ESG issues and performance. Today’s digital consumers will only become more savvy about these issues over time. While the pandemic has been very challenging for B.C. retailers, it has also offered some lessons on ways to better serve consumers so companies can thrive in the future. Consumers have spoken. Retailers now have a fresh opportunity to give them what they want.  

Have questions or want to learn more about how we can help? Please contact Robert Coard, BC Region Industries Leader & Technology and Consumer Markets Leader at PwC Canada at 604-806-7000

Find out more by reading our Canadian Consumer Insights 2021 by visiting