Stifel’s Sustainability Survey, which questioned over 6,000 US active/causal lifestyle brand consumers aged 18-55 found US consumer views of the importance of brands operating sustainably has reached parity with Europe, but there is also greater concerns about the economy and personal finances.

Amid persistent inflationary pressures, the survey revealed price continues to play a key factor in purchase choices. However, almost three out of five consumers (63%) remain willing to pay a premium for brands with leading sustainability practices.

Stifel managing director and sports and lifestyle brands analyst Jim Duffy said: “We know that many consumers regularly consider and value sustainability, especially in the active and casual lifestyle category.

“However, our survey found that 62% of consumers are more concerned about the state of the economy this year versus last year and 56% are more worried about their personal finances, so pocketbook issues are having a greater impact on purchasing decisions.”

Key US consumer findings from Stifel’s report

  • In the US, most active/casual lifestyle brand consumers (80%) agreed it is important for brands to focus on improving their sustainability practices, and many regularly consider and value sustainability when they shop these categories
  • Four in five US consumers said it is important for brands to operate sustainably, including almost two in five (38%) who said it is “very important”
  • Ethical business practices continue to be top-of-mind to US consumers, with over half (58%) saying they are “very important” for brands to prioritise. When asked to rank individual sustainability priorities for brands, US consumers most frequently prioritise ethical business priorities.
  • Most US consumers (80%) reported trying to be more sustainable in their day-to-day life, 70% care more now about sustainability of products than they did a year ago, and 49% regularly chose more expensive products for the sake of sustainability.
  • Two in three US consumers reported to have heard of a brand which received negative backlash on social media for a statement or action taken on a social issue. Half of category purchasers have boycotted a brand this year or in the past, and only one in four would not consider boycotting.
  • When asked what they preferred, about three in five US consumers stated they would rather a brand stay out of social issues entirely, than to make a statement which they disagreed with. If a brand did make a statement which consumers disagreed with, only one in three said it would not affect the trust that they had for the brand.

Key global consumer findings from Stifel’s report

The survey also questioned over 4,000 additional active/causal lifestyle brand consumers aged 18-55 across the UK, Italy, Germany, and France and found:

  • A large share of consumers across the surveyed European markets prioritise sustainability, though with directionally lower indications of willingness to research and spend on leading sustainability practices compared to 2022.
  • Across all markets, at least four in five active/casual lifestyle brand purchasers said it’s important that brands operate with environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and ethical business practices.
  • Italy and Germany both experienced a significant decline among consumers in terms of a willingness to pay more for brands with leading sustainability practices.

Top scoring brands in the Sustainability brand index

Stifel has also updated its Sustainable Lifestyle Brands Index, which ranked 50 brands based on US active/casual lifestyle consumer perception of brand sustainability practices. Brands were measured according to three metrics of sustainability: environmental, social, and ethical business practices.

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The index revealed apparel brand Bombas ranked top in its sustainability brand index for the third consecutive year with an index score of 132.

Other top scoring apparel brands included Yeti with a score of 118 and The North Face with a 116 score. Carhartt and Patagonia shared fourth place with a score of 114, followed by Allbirds in sixth place with a 112 score and adidas in seventh place with a 111 score.

Columbia and Under Armour also made it into the top ten with a shared eighth place score of 110 index score, and Smartwool + Levi’s ranked tenth with a score of 109.

The report also noted that Bombas was a standout performer across all three metrics as it scored in first place for most ethical business practices, social sustainability and environmental sustainability.

Last month (December) the EU agreed a new set of rules that will require EU and non-EU textile and apparel companies to safeguard human rights and the environment within their policies and risk management systems or risk financial penalties.