How South African Consumers Can Make Sustainable Choices

Making sustainable choices today is more important than ever. As South African consumers, we have the power to drive positive change through our everyday decisions. From supporting local businesses to reducing waste, every small action contributes to a healthier planet and a more sustainable future. This article explores practical ways you can make environmentally friendly choices in your daily life, helping to protect our beautiful country and the world for generations to come.

How Sustainability Affects Shopping Habits

A recent YourView poll asked 787 South African consumers to describe their current sustainable shopping habits. Here are the results:

  • 23% avoid products containing harmful chemicals or pollutants
  • 14% prioritise products certified as organic or sustainable by reputable organisations
  • 13% opt for locally sourced products
  • 11% support brands with transparent and ethical supply chains
  • 10% choose items made from recycled materials
  • 7% buy products with minimal packaging
  • 7% shop for products that have ‘vegan/green sign’ on
  • 6% embrace second hand shopping and thrift stores
  • 4% participate in clothing swaps or rental services

What was interesting is that only 4% of consumers said that sustainability does not affect their shopping choices. 

What is clear is that sustainability plays an important role in the purchasing decisions of the majority of South African consumers. These findings suggest a growing awareness and preference for products and brands that align with environmental and ethical values.

Let’s dig into a few ways that consumers can continue to make sustainable shopping choices.

Eco-Friendly Shopping Practices

Adopting eco-friendly shopping practices involves making informed decisions that minimise environmental impact while supporting sustainable development.

Opt for green packaging

One effective approach is to opt for green packaging. This entails choosing products packaged in recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable materials, thereby reducing waste and pollution.

Prioritise sustainable materials

Additionally, prioritising items made from sustainable materials, such as bamboo, recycled plastics, or organic cotton, can significantly lower the carbon footprint associated with production and disposal processes.

Choosing local produce

Furthermore, consumers can make a substantial difference by selecting local produce. Locally sourced foods not only support regional farmers but also reduce the energy expended in transportation, thus lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Going organic

Incorporating organic options is another critical practice. Organic farming typically uses fewer pesticides and artificial fertilisers, leading to healthier soil and reduced water contamination.

Supporting eco-friendly and ethical brands is pivotal. These brands adhere to strict environmental standards throughout their supply chains, ensuring that their products and practices contribute to long-term ecological balance.

Supporting Ethical Brands

Ethical brands engage in practices such as ethical sourcing, ensuring that materials are obtained in a responsible manner that does not exploit labour or the environment. This contributes to fair trade, where producers receive a fair price, promoting economic stability and social justice within communities.

Conscious consumption is essential for South African consumers aiming to support sustainability. By choosing products from brands known for responsible production, consumers can directly influence the market, encouraging more businesses to adopt eco-friendly practices.

Brands like Woolworths and FNB are exemplary in their commitment to sustainable materials and socially responsible behaviour, setting industry standards and inspiring others to follow suit.

Moreover, the impact of these choices transcends individual brands, affecting the broader market. Brands that prioritise sustainability are more resilient in challenging economic conditions and maintain stronger brand equity.

With only 13% of South African brands currently recognised for their sustainability efforts, there is a significant opportunity for growth and improvement. Supporting ethical brands not only aligns with consumers’ values but also ensures a competitive advantage and long-term success in the marketplace.

Embracing the Circular Economy

The circular economy is a model that aims to eliminate waste and continually use resources. It contrasts with the traditional linear economy, which follows a ‘take-make-dispose’ approach. Here’s how consumers can participate in the circular economy:

The five R’s of sustainable fashion:

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle. By buying fewer, high-quality items and reusing or recycling them, consumers can significantly reduce waste. Fashion Revolution South Africa is one such organisation that is redefining South Africa’s fashion industry and other sectors, making them more sustainable and less wasteful.

Support Circular Businesses:

Choose businesses that embrace circular economy principles, such as those that offer repair services or take-back schemes for old products.

Second-hand shopping:

As simple as this sounds it offers another viable solution, allowing consumers to purchase pre-owned items, thus extending the lifecycle of products and reducing the demand for new resources.

Upcycling workshops

These events are gaining popularity, teaching individuals how to creatively repurpose existing items into new, valuable products. They not only foster creativity but also contribute to waste reduction by transforming discarded materials into functional goods.

Consumers can support local artisans who incorporate circular design in their products, providing a market for items that are both functional and sustainable.

The Broader Impact: Sustainability Across Sectors

Building on the principles of the circular economy, it is imperative to analyse how sustainable practices across various sectors contribute to a holistic approach toward environmental stewardship in South Africa.

Cross-sector collaboration exemplifies this strategy, where private and public entities work collectively to address environmental challenges.

For instance, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa’s water stewardship initiatives and circular packaging highlight the significance of sustainable partnerships in reducing environmental impact.

Corporate responsibility is a crucial driver in this context. Companies like Old Mutual Insure and SPAR Group Ltd. are integrating sustainability into their core operations. Old Mutual Insure’s focus on sustainable finance for climate adaptation and SPAR Group Ltd.’s emphasis on collaboration underscores the importance of aligning corporate practices with environmental goals.

Moreover, community engagement remains pivotal. Initiatives such as Project Lungisa and Nestlé’s Income Accelerator Program illustrate how engaging local communities can enhance water security and address historical inequalities, respectively. Such initiatives not only mitigate environmental impact but also foster shared value creation.

Ultimately, the concerted efforts across various sectors—ranging from sustainable finance to renewable energy—demonstrate that environmental stewardship in South Africa necessitates a multi-faceted, collaborative approach.

Sustainability is a Core Focus in 2024

The evolving 2024 consumer brands and retail landscape in South Africa is characterised by a surge in AI-driven innovations, a significant rise in online retail, and a burgeoning focus on sustainability and pet-centric products.

AI is set to redefine retail, enhancing consumer experiences through personalised and immersive shopping journeys. This trend aligns with local innovations and consumer

preferences for tailored products, potentially adding $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Sustainability remains a critical focus. Brands are actively addressing social and environmental concerns through initiatives targeting energy efficiency, water conservation, and climate change, thus aligning with the global push for sustainable development.


The adoption of sustainable consumer behaviours in South Africa is imperative for mitigating environmental degradation and fostering socio-economic well-being.

By prioritising eco-friendly shopping practices, supporting ethical brands, and engaging in the circular economy, consumers can drive significant positive change.

This collective effort has the potential to influence broader sustainability trends across various sectors, thereby contributing to a more resilient and sustainable future.

The insights provided herein serve as a critical resource for informed and responsible decision-making.


YourView Consumer Panel: YourView is maintained and administered by KLA, which provides research services and insights to numerous South African companies, including blue chip clients in the financial services, telecommunications and FMCG industries.

Data Collection:   2024/04/23 – 2024/04/25

Question: What sustainable shopping habits are you most likely to prioritize?  n – 787

Population: No quotas applied with a natural fall-out across demographics.