2021 STATE OF SUSTAINABILITY IN AMERICA, 19th Annual Consumer Insights & Trends Report

125 pages of the Institute’s research, study supported, providing current consumer insights with data and analysis, including charts, graphs, and illustrations!

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Introduction: 19 Years of Sustainability Marketplace Insights

This report is the nineteenth annual U.S. report Natural Marketing Institute® has published on the state of the sustainability market. The report measures and describes the marketplace for sustainable products and services, the consumers who use them, consumers’ expectations of corporate behavior, and attitudes toward environmental responsibility and social issues. In addition, it uncovers consumer motivations and the challenges they encounter in their pursuit to become increasingly aligned with a more sustainable lifestyle.

In fact, our findings reveal consumers are clearly showing more sophistication within the realm of sustainability – with a greater understanding of its breadth, depth, and implications, and they pick the elements that mean the most to them. In this year’s research, we are finding a heightened awareness and concern with environmental responsibility for the health of the planet which appears to be causing shifts in consumer behaviors. Instead of adopting environmentally-friendly behaviors for more self-directed and personal benefits, consumers are looking outward to the environment around them and realizing they have to take a bigger part in fixing the ills that are disrupting planetary health.

Even further, the year 2020 introduced a variable into the health landscape which no one could predict. When viewing trends within this report, it is important to note that the current 2020 study was fielded in October of 2020. Therefore, the data collected in 2020, compared to previous years, may reflect changes due to the impact of the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. Many of these changes may be temporary, while some may be permanent shifts in consumers’ attitudes and behaviors. However, there appears to be evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic may have ignited a stronger conviction towards environmental protection and sustainable behaviors among the population.

In this report, we uncover the insights into what may lie ahead and provide perspective on the trends within the sustainability market from a consumer point of view.

  • How segments within society view sustainability differently and what motivates this differentiation
  • Consumer insights regarding the health of the planet and what issues resonate most
  • The impact of the COVDI-19 pandemic on sustainable attitudes and behaviors
  • Behaviors consumers are adopting to live more sustainably
  • The feasibility of a “circular economy”
  • Consumer attitudes toward plastic and packaging
  • How the iGen generation views the environment and sustainability
  • …and much more

Table of Contents

U.S. Sustainability Consumer Trends Database Overview

Definitions of Groups


Status of Sustainability in Today's World

Trends in Sustainability


The Institute's Sustainability Segmentation

Sustainability Segmentation Overview

Sustainability Segmentation Model Methodology

Five Distinct Sustainability Segments

The LOHAS Consumer Profile

The NATURALITES Consumer Profile

The DRIFTERS Consumer Profile

The CONVENTIONALS Consumer Profile

The UNCONCERNEDS Consumer Profile

LOHAS Consumer as Environmental Steward

Sustainability Process Explained

Sustainable Mainstream Overview

Leader and Followers Profile

Early Adoption Profiles

Demographic Summary Across Segments


Consumer Sustainable Mindset

Environmental and Social Concerns

Personal Responsibility for the Environment

Interconnection of Personal & Planetary Health

Trended Concern Over Pesticides & Chemicals

Willingness to Sacrifice for Environment

Interest in Regenerative Organic Agriculture

Participation in Sustainable Behaviors

Minimizing Personal Impact on Global Warming Trended

Generational Perceptions of Personal Impact on Global Warming

Self Perceptions of Being "Green" and "E-informed"

Perceptions of Green Living Across Age Groups

Consternation Regarding Environmental Involvement


Perceptions of the State of the Planet

Consumers' Environmental Concerns

Perceptions of Environment Compared to 1970's

Concern about Air Pollution

Concern about Toxins in Soil

Concern about Water Issues

Concern about Global Warming

Concern about Issues Related to Biodiversity

Concern about the Decrease in Biodiversity

Concern Over Earth's Ability to Sustain Life

Concern Over Earth's Future Since COVID-19 Outbreak


The Impact of COVID-19 on Sustainable Engagement

Shopping Behaviors During the Pandemic

Meal Preparation During the Pandemic

The Effect of COVID-19 on E-Friendly and Sustainable Attitudes

The Effect of COVID-19 on Commitment to Sustainable Companies

The Pandemic's Effect on Waste Production & Recycling

Interest in Natural Products Due to COVID-19

Self Preservation Behaviors

E-Friendly Behaviors During the Pandemic

Perceptions of Companies' Sustainable Commitment

Environmental "Positives" Due to Lockdown


Waste, Recycling and the Plastic Problem

Concern About Plastic Pollution

Preference for Non-Plastic Alternative Packaging

Preference for Stores/Restaurants to Use Less Plastic

Recycling Frequency of Specific Materials

Skepticism Regarding Curbside Recycling

Ratings of Environmental Friendliness of Specific Materials

Consumer Acceptance of Refillable and Reusable Economy


Corporate Involvement: A Social and Environmental Perspective

Concern for Social Issues

Preference for Companies That Support Social Issues

Alignment with Brand Values

Interest in Companies' Social Initiatives

Concern about Companies Environmental Initiative since COVID-19

Interest in Companies' Environmental Initiatives

Social & Environmental Concerns Among LOHAS Consumers

Preference for Companies' Support of Local Initiatives

Perceived Leaders of Environmental Protection

Desire for Institutions to Do More

Trust in Institutions to Protect Environment

Trust in Institutions to Protect Environment by Generation

Impact of a Company's Sustainability Initiatives on Trial and Purchase

Skepticism of Companies' Environmental Initiatives

Consumer Actions to Determine Companies' Environmental Initiatives

Boycotting Behavior Due to Lack of Companies' Sustainable Initiatives


The Relevance of Sustainability Toward Product Purchase

Consumer Preference for Sustainable Purchases

Consumer Acceptance of a Circular Economy

Reducing Environmental Impact Across Product Life Cycle

Desire to Purchase "Green" Products Trended

Concern Over Chemical Content in Consumer Products

Chemical Monitoring Across Product Categories

Growth in Interest of Natura and E-Friendly Versions of Product Categories

Interest in "Natural" vs. "E-Friendly" Versions

Perceived Sacrifices of Environmental Product Use

Importance of Household Cleaning Product Attributes

Growth in Importance of Household Cleaning Product Attributes

Importance Ratings of Personal Care Product Attributes

Growth in Importance Ratings of Personal Care Product Attributes

Use of Natural or Organic Personal Care Products

Use of Plant-Based Products

Reasons for Reduction in Meat Consumption

Meat Reduction Due to Environmental and Animal Welfare Concerns

Growth in Importance of Food/Beverage Attributes

Relevance of Certifications on Product Purchase

Recognition and Understanding of Certifications & Seals

Impact of Certifications on Product Purchase Intent

Sources of Influence on Sustainable Purchase

Barriers to Environmentally-Friendly Purchase

Impact of Price on Social and Environmental Orientation


Sustainability in Retail

Perceptions of Sustainable Shopping Methods: Online vs. Stores

Impact of COVID-19 on Brick & Mortar Shopping

Concern About Packaging and Online Ordering

Consumer Desire for Sustainable Shopping Experience

Interest in "Refillable" Shopping

Trended Channel Shopping

Internet Site Shopping


The Institute's Sustainability Segmentation

Consumer segments in the general population exhibit various shades of ‘green’ based on their levels of environmental and sustainable engagement. While some consumers have ‘deep green’ consciousness, there are varying levels among consumers within the American population.

  • The consumer segment within the population which is considered the ‘greenest’ segment is the LOHAS (Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability) consumer who is integral in helping to drive sustainability into the mainstream.

  • Other segments within the population also hold ‘green’ attitudes and participate in ‘green’ behaviors but their motivations are differentiated.

  • By understanding the consumer segment’s orientation, organizations are better equipped to determine how to target the most optimal segment with the most relevant marketing strategies.

Sustainability Segmentation Model Methodology


Development of the Institute’s unique and proprietary segmentation model began with evaluating over 170 different attitudinal and behavioral variables, later narrowed to approximately 15. A k-means clustering method was used. Cluster centers were defined as dense regions in the multivariate space based on a k-means segmentation of the attitudinal variables from the Institute’s Sustainability Consumer Trends Database survey.

This segmentation can be used to identify and predict segment membership as part of a quantitative extrapolative analysis of future consumer behavior.

5 Unique Segments: each segment is mutually exclusive and is designed to have the maximum differentiation between consumer groups and the maximum homogeneity within each consumer group. The predictive accuracy is high at 86%.

The segmentation has been overlaid on third-party data sets such as Nielsen’s Homescan and can be used through the Institute in custom/primary qualitative or quantitative research.

U.S. Sustainability Consumer Trends Database® (SCTD) Overview


  • Quantifies the size of the consumer market for environmentally and socially responsible products and services
  • Measures the importance of environmental and societal issues as well as corporate social responsibility
  • Explores environmentally conscious behavior
  • Determines consumer usage of sustainable products and services and quantifies purchase criteria
  • Annual tracking study in U.S. since 2002 and globally since 2005

Report Methodology:

  • 3,000 U.S. adults in 2020, nationally projectable to the U.S. adult population and accurate at the 95% confidence level to +/- 1.2%
  • Conducted online
  • Fielded October 2020
  • Report released January 2021

Natural Marketing Institute Databases:

  • U.S. Trending since 2002 and Globally since 2005
  • Conducted in 23 countries; 150,000+ global consumers interviewed

For more information on our 2021 Sustainability Consumer Trends Report, kindly contact Steve French, Chief Operating Officer.