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Environmental restraint: poll reveals majority of French public look to companies for guidance on changes to lifestyle and consumption in face of environmental challenges

Recent polls have revealed that members of the French public are increasingly supportive of ways in which companies can help them to change their consumption and lifestyle habits in the face of increasing environmental and sustainability challenges. The majority of respondents agree that companies and their leaders can do more to change their consumption habits, but less than half say that they themselves are prepared to change their own lifestyle.

The study was commissioned by Teneo, the global CEO advisory firm, and Impact France, organizers of the Universités d’été de l’Economie de demain #UEED2022. This year’s UEED conference was based on the theme of “environmental restraint” and explores the theme of changing patterns in consumption, lifestyle habits and consumer behavior as a result of environmental and sustainability challenges.

“Environmental restraint” remains an unclear concept for most respondents.
The poll reveals that the French public is still unclear on the meaning of “environmental restraint” or “holding back” on existing consumption or habits. Whilst the French seem concerned about the impact of their consumption on the environment, the definition of “environmental restraint” remains blurry to most. Half of respondents said it meant either "consuming less” or “consuming better" (16% and for 26% respectively). More than one in ten said they do not know the precise definition.

The French rely heavily on the actions of corporate leaders to encourage them to adopt more "environmentally sober" lifestyles and consumption patterns in all spheres. The majority believe that companies can help them by:

  • Setting an example (89%) and favoring locally sourced and distributed products (91%).
  • Being more transparent about the impact of their goods and services. This includes their traceability, ingredients and the working conditions of the company’s employees.
  • Offering more sustainable and environmentally friendly products (89%).
  • Developing and providing sustainable transport (87%).

Most respondents (82%) also believe that shared governance and a more effective distribution of companies’ economic and financial value could help them better understand and manage their own impact on the environment. An example of this could include being prompted by energy companies to make changes related to water and energy consumption.

That said, the French remain relatively unwilling to adapt their own consumption patterns, with only 40% saying that they are ready to reduce their overall consumption levels.

The French public’s willingness to lower their consumption is not even across all categories. 48% of respondents say they would be willing to lower their consumption by buying more organic, local and fair-trade products, while also lowering their food waste and energy usage. However, less than a third (27%) of respondents are willing to compromise on their vacation destinations by reducing air travel and less than one fifth (17%) are prepared to change their digital habits by limiting internet consumption, renting products or purchasing reconditioned appliances.

For Caroline Neyron, Managing Director of Impact France: "More than ever, the French expect economic players to make commitments. We are witnessing a major turning point: the current economic situation no longer allows companies to make exaggerated statements without taking real action. This demand for positive impact from companies is a good thing, it is a sign that companies can and must really work for the common good. The results also show that less than half of consumers are willing to engage in a more environmentally sober consumption, so we can’t rely on them first."

For Aurélie Motta-Rivey, Senior Managing Director of Teneo in France and Head of Societer-Sustainable leadership: "While there are signs of the French government announcing measures to encourage restrictive consumption due to the environmental context, the French consider more than ever that companies are clear partners in achieving a positive impact. We have reached a new level of corporate social and environmental responsibility. Companies must not only be exemplary in their actions, they must also show consumers how to commit to more sober and sustainable habits and help transform the lifestyles and consumption patterns of their customers and consumers. In this movement, corporate leaders, who are already expected to champion sustainable leadership, are now faced with a new imperative: that of an environmentally restrained, collective and involved leadership.”