Ethical and Sustainable Trends 2019

Ethical and Sustainable Trends 2019

2018 felt like the first year where ethical living really went mainstream. Major fashion magazine Elle dedicated their most important issue of the year, the September Issue, to sustainable fashion, and issues from plastic pollution to palm oil have dominated the news headlines.

Last year I made my predictions for the ethical and sustainable trends to watch in 2018, including plastic pollution, the rise of veganism, major growth in ethical fashion and a bigger push against climate change.

After reviewing the data from 2018, it’s clear that significant progress was made in all of these areas, but these issues aren’t going away any time soon.

Keeping up to speed with the latest consumer and market trends is essential for any business wanting to thrive in their industry, and understanding the influencing factors behind customer behaviour can help identify new opportunities.

So what ethical and sustainable trends can we expect to see in 2019?



The war on plastic continues, and becomes more complex

2018 saw our consumption of, and reliance on, plastic come into question in a big way. Since Blue Planet II first brought the issue into our living rooms, we’ve seen consumers start to question and challenge brands on their packaging, governments make moves to implement bans on single use plastics and everyday behaviour start to change.

However, change takes time, and plastic is such a widely used, affordable material, it’s unlikely that this problem will be solved overnight.

2018 saw an increase in bring-your-own cup schemes and extensive plastic straw bans. The reusable bottle industry is now worth £5.5bn and the global market is expected to expand at 3.6% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2017 to 2025.

‘Single-use’ was even named word of the year 2018 by Collins Dictionary and, according to, online searches for ‘plastic recycling’ increased by 55% last year.

1 million plastic bottles are still purchased around the world every minute, and it’s predicted that figures will rise by another 20% by 2021 (according to, so there’s still a lot of work to be done.

However, many conscious consumers have now made the simple switches – also known as the ‘Big 4’: drinking straws, takeaway coffee cups, plastic water bottles and plastic shopping bags.

In 2019 we can expect consumers to be looking for deeper, systematic change around single use plastic.

This may lead to a growth in recycling schemes, but we can also expect to see consumer pressure pushing legislation and corporations to go deeper than that.

Leading market research organisation Mintel have named ‘Rethink Plastic’ as one of their key trends to watch in 2019, finding that 49% of UK consumers who already recycle most food packaging say that clearer instructions on which parts of packaging can be recycled is needed, and 71% of UK household care product buyers agree that using recovered ocean plastic in packaging is a good way to protect the environment.

We can expect to see more consumer pressure, resulting in more innovative solutions to alternative packaging and a circular economy for plastic waste.



Zero waste shopping

In the fight against single use plastic, customers are turning to zero waste shops, and now it feels like almost every town has one.

They often stock a range of dry goods from pasta, to spices, tea, coffee and loose fruit and vegetables, alongside bulk household cleaning goods like washing up liquid and laundry detergent for consumers to fill their own containers.

This is a return to the way we shopped before supermarkets, and whereas for the past few years ‘zero waste living’ was seen as the latest Instagram trend for the privileged influencers able to fit their entire year’s trash in an on-trend mason jar, it’s now moving into the mainstream.

Some supermarkets have announced plans to ditch plastic packaging in their own brand products, and Britain’s first plastic-free zone recently opened in a supermarket in North London, but as consumers continue to embrace zero waste, the bigger brands are going to have to move faster if they want to compete.

It’s possible we’ll see an increase in shopping locally as the zero waste market continues to grow.



Renewable energy continues to rise

2018 saw big shake ups in the energy sector, as UK consumers have continued to move away from bigger providers in search of a cheaper deal. Energy regulator Ofgem found that the big six had a net loss of around 1.4 million customers between June 2017 and June 2018.

25% of consumers now use small or medium-sized providers (up from 19% of gas customers and 18% of electricity customers in 2017).

The main reason behind these switches may be financial, but it presents an exciting opportunity for smaller firms supplying renewable energy.

One such supplier, Bulb, have increased customer numbers to 870,000 since it launched in 2015 and their 2017/18 financial report is set to show a 1700% increase in revenue from £10 million to £183 million. They have also been named as the UK’s fastest-growing private company.

Around the world, China has already surpassed its 2020 solar panel target and is expected to exceed its wind target in 2019, making them the world’s renewable growth leader and putting them on track to account for over 40% of the total global clean energy mix by 2022.

India is expected to more than double renewable capacity by 2020, at a growth rate which is expected to be higher than the European Union.

Rising consumer awareness, a growing sense of urgency around climate change, along with a range of new, competitive renewable energy providers to choose from, means we are likely to see more households switching to green energy in 2019.



Innovations in eco-friendly materials

From building materials, to pineapple and mushroom leathers and ‘vegan meat’, we’re constantly seeing new innovations designed with sustainability in mind.

With the environmental credentials of the fast fashion industry being called into question by the UK government at the end of 2018, it’s likely that we’ll see more growth in innovative new fabrics that reduce the carbon footprint of our clothes in the year ahead.

In the food sector, there is growing demand from the UK’s estimated 22 million ‘flexitarians’ for innovative new meat substitutes.

Tesco have already launched the UK’s first plant-based steak which looks authentically pink in the middle after cooking, and US brand Beyond Meat plans to roll out their plant-based burgers, which go brown on the outside and pink on the inside when cooked, across 50 countries and 6 continents.

According to the Vegan Society more than half of UK adults are adopting vegan buying behaviour. Whether they’re motivated by animal welfare or the carbon footprint of animal agriculture, the growth in ethical eating will continue to have a knock on impact in the food sector and beyond, as people opt for vegan fashion and beauty products to match their lifestyle.



We can’t predict exactly what will happen in the ethical and sustainability sector in 2019, but as ethical business owners, we can use our marketing, communities and collective voice to continue to campaign for change and move the needle for our cause.

As ethically-minded millennials continue to increase their spending power, and issues like climate change continue to dominate news headlines and public campaign efforts, it’s likely that the ethical market, and demand for eco-friendly products, will continue to grow.

The businesses that will thrive in the ethical economy are those with embedded ethical and sustainable credentials across their entire operations, who keep up with ethical and sustainable trends and who understand the demands of the conscious consumer and are ready and willing to meet them.



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  • Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
    Posted at 23:31h, 24 December Reply

    Thanks for a great post!

    I hope 2019 will make ethical consumers even more refined in their purchasing power.

    For example, you mention wind/solar energy. Advances in tech, that some but not all have adopted yet, regarding panel size or wind turbine recyclability,behoove us to choose providers who operate on the cutting edge in their industry. We need to ask questions to drive tech innovations, too.

    Another example is those wind companies making efforts to reduce wildlife impacts v. those that aren’t considering their products’ environmental impacts. Find out which is making the effort (or not).

    In terms of food, GMO is a concern for several reasons. One of the most important is pesticide use. Vegan doesn’t mean non-GMO. Vegan doesn’t mean organic either. Finding products that are non-GMO, organic and vegan may be ideal but tough to track down.

  • Ricky wallace
    Posted at 20:08h, 29 January Reply

    Great read! Very promising to hear a sharp upward trend in conscious shopping habits.

    Unfortunately I think you’re right and more of the ‘big players’ need to pull their weight and play catch up.

    I do genuinely believe this is just the start of a major shift in responsible shopping habits though, as more people realise how the ‘convenience’ we’ve been surrounded by for so long is no longer a viable option for the future!

    Thanks for the great post- I look forward to reading of more upward trends as the year progresses.

    Ricky (TFTC)

  • Rich Spicer
    Posted at 16:03h, 24 May Reply

    Fantastic article and some great new about the trend in consumer behaviour continuing in the ethical direction. Forward thinking business owners will do well to spot the opportunity and steer their organisations towards a zero waste mindset. Keep up the good work guys.

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