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How Do Consumers Identify Sustainable Products and Services?

This study conducted by My Sustainable Canada in 2011 provides a current portrait of the Canadian consumer’s green purchasing behavior.  In a multi-stage study, researchers first intercepted shoppers outside of retail stores in Guelph and Montréal and asked them about their purchases.  Shoppers were then asked to complete an in-home inventory.  They recorded which of 115 products and 20 services they had on hand and identified which ones they thought were sustainable.  The actual sustainability of the products and services they said they had was determined and a household sustainability index was developed to compare the information provided by the 104 participating households.

The study provides a number of insights into current green purchasing behavior:

  • 81% of respondents reported that the store they just shopped in did not have alternative, more sustainable products to meet their product needs.  This suggests that most consumers are not aware that sustainable options are now available in many of the product categories they regularly purchase.
  • Consumers make truly sustainable purchases in only a few product categories: appliances, household cleaners, food, and paper products.  They are least sustainable in their purchases of technology products and personal care products.
  • Activities that require a behaviour change and strong commitment to sustainability have a low level of participation.  These include buying green energy, using a car share program, and buying food from Community Shared Agriculture programs.
  • A consumer’s life stage, level of education, and size of living space all contribute to sustainable purchasing behaviour.  Consumers with the worst household sustainability scores are those with a university education, who own their homes and live in households with 2 or more persons.


My Sustainable Canada received funding from Industry Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organisations for this research project. The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of Industry Canada or the Government of Canada.


Project Team:

Linda Varangu, M.Eng.
Director, My Sustainable Canada

Tania Del Matto, M.ES.
Director, My Sustainable Canada

Brendan Wylie-Toal, B.Sc., HBOR
Program and Research Manager, My Sustainable Canada

Marc Hébert, B. Comm.
Field Researcher, My Sustainable Canada

Paulette Padanyi, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, University of Guelph

P. Wesley Schultz, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, Action Research, Inc.
Professor of Psychology, California State University

Coral M. Bruni, M.A.
Data Analyst, Action Research, Inc.

Colleen Thorpe, M.Env.
Project Manager, Équiterre

Catherine Gauthier
Research Assistant, Équiterre