It’s not the greatest mark out there by any means. But Ontarians have earned a C+ when it comes to responsible consumption, according to a new index of consumption behaviours.

The Ontario Responsible Consumption Index (ORCI) gave Ontarians a score of 68.9 across a wide range of purchasing, non-purchasing and post-purchasing behaviours. The study was conducted by the Responsible Consumption Observatory – with a financial partnership from TD Bank.

Nearly three-quarters (73.8%) of Ontarians believe that to consume responsibly is to first and foremost buy eco-friendly goods and services. Over the past year, nearly half (46.4%) have increased their consumption of green goods and services. More than half (53%) have occasionally switched brands out of environmental convictions. Ontario women and senior citizens are the most environmentally and socially conscious when it comes to their consumption habits.

“The availability of socially responsible goods and services has expanded rapidly in Ontario—and consumers are beginning to take notice and take action,” said Fabien Durif (Ph.D.), Responsible Consumption Observatory director and professor at the School of Management of the Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM). “This type of consciousness is leading Ontarians to increasingly make more socially and environmentally ethical purchases and behaviours.”

According to the survey, recycling topped the list of responsible behaviours among Ontarians with 82.4% of Ontarians surveyed confirming they have recycled paper in the past year (cardboard: 82.0%; plastic: 81.6%; and glass: 79.4%).

The top eight types of responsible behaviour for Ontarians are:

  • Recycling
  • Environment protection
  • Deconsumption
  • Protection of animals
  • Local consumption
  • Composting
  • Citizen consumption
  • Sustainable transport
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But still, Ontarians are still skeptical of ‘green’ labelling.

Despite an increase in responsible consumption, consumers demonstrated generally poor knowledge of responsible brands. When asked to identify which brand or company they thought was responsible, over half (53% for brands; 55% for companies) were incapable of providing an answer. The most responsible brand, Green Works, came out on top, but with only 4.19% of respondents. The most responsible company identified was Clorox (maker of Green Works) with 2.29% of respondents.

The same unawareness applied to eco-labels: of the 32 labels surveyed, only three were known by more than 50% of consumers. For instance, the official eco-label of Environment Canada, EcoLogo, was recognized by only 27.9% of Ontario consumers.

The lack of information on product origin, product composition and on the meaning of eco-labels is one of the major impediments to responsible consumption. While price was identified as the biggest impediment (59.7%), almost half (48.7%) of respondents said there is not enough information on the environmental and social benefits of products.

When presented with information, however, Ontarians remain skeptical, with 48.2% citing they’re more trusting of official environmental certifications, and only one third (30.5%) believing environmentally-oriented advertising.

“The results show that no clear brand or company stands out as eco-responsible,” explains Caroline Boivin (Ph.D.), professor at University of Sherbrooke. “There is an opportunity for companies to integrate eco-responsibility into the lifecycles of their products, instill an eco-responsible culture into their companies and successfully communicate their sustainable brands to consumers to build credibility and trust.”

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Additional findings from the survey:

  • 67.4% chose a local product when offered a choice compared to a non-local product
  • 54.2% indicated having composted household waste in the past 12 months
  • 68.7% reduced their energy consumption and 63.7% minimized their fuel consumption
  • 55.6% avoided purchasing goods and services made by companies that harmed endangered animal or plant species, and a further 56.6% avoided purchasing products made by companies that use child labour; 47.2% favoured fair trade goods
  • Up to 37.7% of Ontarians had avoided using their car to travel to work in the past 12 months, while 33.7% avoided using their car for personal trips
  • 45% of Ontarians indicated that they would consider going green (e.g. LEED certified building or construction priotizing the use of eco-friendly materials) for the purchase of their next house or rental unit
Madison is a journalist/media consultant currently working in Toronto.


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