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Consumers and Sustainability: Personal Care

This report forms part of a series jointly published by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts on Consumers and Sustainability. This four-part series covers in separate reports the markets for foods and beverages, personal care products, household cleaners, and OTC medications and supplements.

Sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” (76%) and “the ability to support oneself.” Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases. Thus, nearly half of consumers associate sustainability with conserving natural resources and with recycling.

But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the term. “Green” falls short as a description for the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe are important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large. Adoption of sustainable products mirrors the health and wellness progression that The Hartman Group has previously reported, in which consumers first consider the impacts of things in the body, followed by on the body, and finally around the body.

As consumers become more educated about the environmental, social, and economic implications of their shopping habits, their health and wellness motivations dovetail with societal concerns, such that four zones of sustainability become relevant to purchasing choices:

  • The Personal Benefit Zone
  • The Environmental Zone
  • The Social Zone
  • The Economic Zone

Within the personal care market—which includes cleansers, soap, moisturizer, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, cosmetics and fragrances—personal health and wellness needs are the most important factor in what motivates a consumer to purchase a sustainable product. However, attributes such as “chemical free” and “not tested on animals” are also frequent considerations for conventional and alternative personal care products alike.

Consumers often review the ingredients contained in a personal care product looking for recognizable, pronounceable ingredients as an indication of “naturalness.” Although the term “natural” has lost significance in other categories, it remains a meaningful term to reference a variety of sustainable personal care product attributes that also signify quality to consumers.

Read an excerpt from this report below.

Series Methodology

This report series was jointly produced by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts, and is based on The Hartman Group’s 2009 multi-category study, Sustainability: The Rise of Consumer Responsibility. In addition, Packaged Facts provides an update of consumer attitudes and spending based on a proprietary online poll conducted in February 2009 and on Experian Simmons surveys fielded from November 2008 to June 2009.

The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

This report draws primarily on an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adults conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group to understand consumer attitudes and behaviors related to sustainability. The sample was drawn from a panel of adult U.S. consumers with Internet access, and was designed to provide good representation of the U.S. population according to geographic area, age, gender, race and income. The Hartman Group also conducted qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008, using consumer ethnography with fifty consumers as the cornerstone of qualitative research. Ethnographic interviews included one-on-one conversations at an individual’s home or at a specific retail setting, as well as group interviews also at consumers’ homes. These engagements garnered more than 100 hours of in-depth, revelatory consumer discussion.


Market Insights: A Selection From The Report


Purchase Criteria

Efficacy is the fundamental purchase criterion for personal care products. Therefore, Periphery, Mid-level and Core consumers all report a desire that sustainable personal care products meet their needs, before considering any sustainable attributes. Beyond this first criterion we found that no animal testing was an expectation for all products. After efficacy and animal testing, the importance of certain sustainable attributes varies across different consumer segments. The following table identifies and ranks the criteria most important to consumers in each segment as they specifically seek out sustainable personal care items. It also demonstrates what we generally find among Periphery, Mid-level and Core consumers - that as they become more committed to sustainability, their investment in acquiring knowledge increases.

Personal Care Product Packaging

In contrast to the food and beverage market, where the absence of packaging epitomizes sustainable products, consumers recognize that personal care products must be packaged. Evaluating sustainable packaging is therefore a matter of degree, with consumers interested in the simplest possible packaging. While the use of plastic is considered a “necessary evil” for most personal care products, recyclability is deemed a requirement.

A Note about Sustainable Cosmetics

Sustainable cosmetics, as well as fragrances/perfumes, are typically the last products in the personal care category for which consumer adopt sustainable versions. Because of the heightened emphasis on product efficacy and consumer pleasure in cosmetics and fragrances/perfumes, these products are the “final frontier” in terms of sustainability.

With cosmetics, consumers worry that sustainable products will not meet the same performance requirements — coverage, color, texture, variety — as their traditional counterparts.

In the News


Personal Care Products and Sustainability:  A Market Update

New York, September 29, 2009 — Market research firms Packaged Facts and The Hartman Group have joined forces to publish a series of reports tracking current consumer attitudes and shopping behaviors in relation to “sustainable” consumer packaged goods.

The second volume in the just-completed series, Consumers and Sustainability: Personal Care, reports that “natural” remains a meaningful reference point for a variety of sustainable personal care products, even if the term has lost significance in other packaged good categories. Moreover, attributes such as “chemical free” and “not tested on animals” are frequent considerations for purchasers of conventional and sustainable personal care products alike.

Sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” and “the ability to support oneself.” Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases.  But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the frame of reference; these older terms fail to acknowledge the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe to be important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large. 

According to Consumers and Sustainability: Personal Care, adoption of sustainable products often mirrors the health and wellness progression that The Hartman Group has previously reported, in which consumers first consider the impacts of things in the body, followed by on the body, and finally around the body. 

Many consumers have, of course, modified their purchasing of higher-priced sustainable products in response to the current economic downturn.  Even so, tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely for product categories that sustainability consumers view as essential to their quality of life, including personal care products.   Therefore, according to Tatjana Meerman, publisher of Packaged Facts, natural and organic personal care products “should post 6%-9% sales growth rates in the United States in 2009 and 2010, by which time an improving domestic and global economy will spur the market back to double-digit gains.”

The Consumers and Sustainability series draws on an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adults consumers conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group, as well as qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008.  Packaged Facts provides a market update based on Packaged Facts’ Natural and Organic Personal Care Products in the U.S. (July 2009),  a Packaged Facts February 2009 online consumer poll, and Experian Simmons national consumer surveys fielded November 2008 through June 2009.  In addition to Personal Care, the consumer markets covered by the Consumers and Sustainability series are , Household Cleaners, and OTC Medications and Supplements.

About Packaged Facts - Packaged Facts, a division of Market Research Group, publishes market intelligence on a wide range of consumer market topics, including consumer goods and retailing, foods and beverages, demographics, pet products and services, and financial products.  Packaged Facts also offers a full range of custom research services. 

About The Hartman Group - The Hartman Group, located in Bellevue, Washington, blends leading-edge customized research and consulting to understand the subtle complexities of consumer behavior. Since 1989, Hartman Group has been listening loudly to the underlying motivations and behaviors that move the needle for our clients. >.


  • Methodology
    • A Joint Publication of The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts
    • The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
    • About The Hartman Group, Inc.
    • About Packaged Facts
  • Sustainability & the American Consumer
    • Establishing a Definition of Sustainability
    • Sustainability Concerns and Purchasing Decisions
    • A Consumer-based Model of Responsibility
    • Experiential Triggers
    • Informational Triggers
    • The World of Sustainability: Core to Periphery
    • Motivations and Barriers to Purchase
      • Convenience
      • Price
      • Expert Opinion
      • Experience
      • Knowledge
        • Table Motivations and Barriers for Sustainable Purchases
  • Personal Care and the Sustainability Consumer
    • The Personal Care Market and the Zones of Sustainability
    • Personal Benefit Zone of Sustainability
    • Environmental Zone of Sustainability
      • Recognizable Ingredients
      • Organic
      • Wild-Grown, Hand-Harvested
      • Chemical-Free
    • Social Zone of Sustainability
      • Humane Treatment of Animals
    • Motivations and Pathway(s) for Adoption
    • Attributes of Sustainable Personal Care
      • Natural is the Foremost Attribute of Sustainable Personal Care
    • Hierarchy of Specific Attributes
      • Table Chemicals Consumers Avoid in Sustainable Personal Care Products
    • Relevant Personal Care Certification(s)
      • Cruelty Free
      • Organic
      • Other Certifications
    • Personal Care Product Packaging
      • Table Packaging Do's and Don'ts for Sustainable Personal Care Products
    • Purchase Criteria
      • Table Purchase Criteria for Sustainable Personal Care Products
      • A Note about Sustainable Cosmetics
    • Quantitative Findings on Sustainable Personal Care Purchasing
      • Table General Personal Care Product Categories and Corresponding Sustainable Versions
  • Summary and Key Insights
    • Personal Health and Wellness Needs Are Key to Purchases
    • Tenets for Package Communications
  • Market Update
    • Responses to Economic Downturn
    • Sustainability Convictions Largely Unchanged by Recession
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Opinions
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Behaviors
    • Consumers Remain Receptive to Natural HBC
      • Product Efficacy vs. Product Safety
        • Table Percent Agreeing with Selected Psychographic Statements on Natural/Organic Health and Beauty Care Products, February 2009 (U.S. adults) Psychographic Statement Percent
      • Only a Minority Are Inclined to Cut Back
    • Market Growth Remains an Upward Arc
      • Table Projected U.S. Retail Dollar Sales of Natural Personal Care Products, 2008-2014 (dollars in millions)

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