Is Covid-19 changing sustainable consumer behavior?

Since the early stage of 2020, humanity has started to be threatened by Covid-19. Its contagiousness, its high mortality rate, and the need for hospitalization for the most serious cases led policymakers of many countries to take several countermeasures. Such as social distancing, wearing protection masks, restrictions that involve non-essential activities (e.g., restaurants and non-grocery shops), partial or total lockdowns, among others. The article, written by Rosa Maria Dangelico, Valerio Schiaroli and Luca Fraccascia, wants to explore how Covid-19 is changing sustainable consumer behavior.


Together with the fear of the new virus, which has caused severe impacts on the global economy, these countermeasures have led to significant changes in people’s lifestyles and daily routines. Many studies in the literature have been conducted to investigate how and the extent to which consumer habits and behavior can be affected by particular (unexpected) events, such as natural disasters and terroristic attacks.


In line with this literature, research on the impact of Covid-19 on consumer behaviors has been rapidly growing. But it is still at a nascent stage. Thus, this study contributes to the literature on the influence of disasters on consumer behavior with specific regard to sustainable behavior.


A questionnaire on changing sustainable consumer behavior

To measure the extent of changes in consumer behavior, a questionnaire was developed and administered to a sample of 1.535 Italian consumers. Specifically, it asked if the pandemic has increased consumer awareness (related to environmental problems, the relevance of social and political cooperation, and the impact of individual behaviors and purchase choices on the environment, society, and economy) and consumer concern (related to infectious disease and several environmental problems).


Further, the questionnaire asked if the pandemic has increased consumer sense of moral duty and perceived social influence to purchase different categories of sustainable products. Then, it asked if the pandemic has increased or decreased consumer purchase frequency and willingness to pay for these products. Also, if the pandemic has increased or decreased several consumer behaviors and habits. Differences among the answers provided by groups with different socio-demographic characteristics have been investigated and interesting results have emerged.


Results of the questionnaire

The results of the questionnaire highlighted many different aspects. The first one was an increase in the awareness of environmental problems and the importance of cooperation to solve global problems.


In addition to that, the questionnaire shows that the pandemic increased the concern of respondents about infectious disease and environmental problems. Not surprisingly, the highest increase in the level of concern is about “Infectious diseases”.


The results also show that the pandemic caused an increase in consumer awareness related to the impact of consumer purchasing choices and behaviours. Respondents became more aware that their purchasing choices can impact the economy and their behavior can make a difference in mitigating environmental problems.


Moreover, results show that the pandemic increased consumer’s moral duty to purchase sustainable products.


Another result was an increase in social influence to purchase sustainable products. Respondents indicated that people important to them think it is right to buy these products more than before the pandemic.


In addition to that, the results also show that many respondents increased the frequency of purchase related to Made in Italy and Local products sold by neighborhood stores.


Another result shows several changes in purchase behaviours: many respondents increased the frequency of purchasing products online, or avoided the purchase of non-essential products.


The results also show that respondents increased the frequency of carrying out pro-environmental behaviors. This could be linked to the increased awareness of the impact of human behavior on the environment.


Results also highlight several changes in the use of transportation means. For example, many respondents decreased the frequency of public transport use, or reduced the use of car-sharing.


Finally, results show that, depending on the specific category of sustainable product: many respondents indicated an increase in the willingness to pay a premium price.


Implications

This study analyzes the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on sustainable consumer behavior, considering several aspects (i.e., psychological factors, consumption patterns, lifestyle habits), thus providing a comprehensive view of the phenomenon under multiple perspectives.


Specifically, this study explicitly focuses on the changes, generated by the pandemic, in sustainable consumer behavior (willingness to pay more for sustainable products, frequency of purchase of sustainable products, purchase behavior and habits) as well as in its determinants (awareness, concern, moral duty, social influence) simultaneously.


In terms of managerial implications, their study provides useful insights for companies. Specifically, the results show a general increase in both the frequency of purchase and the willingness to pay more for several categories of sustainable products.


Further, the increase in the frequency of purchase and willingness to pay more for made in Italy and local products (higher than that of the other considered product categories), as well as the higher consumers’ attention to reading product labels to check the place of production, may let companies change their production strategies (if production processes are currently delocalized) or better promote these characteristics (if products are already manufactured locally or in Italy).


Finally, several implications for policymakers can be derived from this study’s results. First, this study offers an overview of the changes in consumers’ environmental awareness and concern due to Covid-19, highlighting differences among socio-demographic groups.


These results, if associated with low initial absolute values, can be useful to develop information campaigns aimed at raising environmental awareness of specific groups.


Conclusion

In conclusion, this research offers a general picture of the changes in sustainable consumer behavior that occurred in the Italian context due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Results have shown that this catastrophic and unexpected event led consumers to be more concerned about environmental problems, more aware of individual impacts, and to behave more sustainably.


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This text is an excerpt from an article published with the following reference: “Dangelico, R. M., Schiaroli, V., & Fraccascia, L. (2022). Is Covid-19 changing sustainable consumer behavior? A survey of Italian consumers. Sustainable Development30(6), 1477-1496. https://doi.org/10.1002/sd.2322”.



It can be read in its entirety at this link.

Luca Fraccascia

Luca Fraccascia is a Senior Assistant Professor at Sapienza University of Rome and guest Researcher at University of Twente (The Netherlands). He completed his M.Sc. in Management Engineering with honors from the Polytechnic University of Bari in 2013 and received his Ph.D in Mechanical and Engineering Management at Politecnico di Bari in 2017. His research concerns the transition to the circul... Read more

Luca Fraccascia is a Senior Assistant Professor at Sapienza University of Rome and guest Researcher at University of Twente (The Netherlands). He completed his M.Sc. in Management Engineering with honors from the Polytechnic University of Bari in 2013 and received his Ph.D in Mechanical and Engineering Management at Politecnico di Bari in 2017. His research concerns the transition to the circular economy, with a particular focus on industrial symbiosis practices, sustainable business models, and sustainable consumer behavior. He is the Co-founder of the Sustainability and Circular Economy Group at Sapienza University of Rome and consults for companies interested in adopting the principles of circular economy and industrial symbiosis in their business.
In 2019, he received the Italian scientific qualification as Associate Professor from the Ministry of Education, University, and Research. He is a member of Associazione italiana di Ingegneria Gestionale (AiIG).

Luca Fraccascia has published in leading international journals such as International Journal of Production Economics, International Journal of Production Research, and Ecological Economics. He is an editor of Resources Conservation and Recycling Advances, a member of the editorial board of Journal of Business Research, and acts as guest editor for several international journals. He is included in the list of 100.000 top Scientists developed by Baas, J, Boyack, K, Ioannidis, J (2021) and was awarded Giorgio Pagliarani Best Paper Award in 2019.