New global research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), commissioned by WWF, shows a staggering 71% rise in popularity of searches for sustainable goods over the past five years, with continuing growth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report titled An Eco-wakening: Measuring global awareness, engagement and action for natureshows a surge in consumer clicks for sustainable goods in high-income countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Canada. However, the trend goes beyond these economies and is accelerating in developing and emerging ones – like Ecuador (120%) and Indonesia (24%). This is creating new market opportunities for companies, particularly in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical, fashion and food sectors.

“Sustainable and planet-friendly products used to be a niche market. Today, that’s no longer the case,” said Sheila Bonini, senior vice president of private sector engagement at WWF in the United States. “This research backs up what we’ve seen anecdotally over the years—demand is there.”

The report – which analyzes data from 2016-2020 – measures engagement, awareness and action for nature in 27 languages, across 54 countries, covering 80% of the world’s population. Public interest in and concern for nature has risen markedly (16%) in the past five years and has continued to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic. People all over the world, particularly in emerging markets, are increasingly aware of the environmental planetary crisis, and this is affecting their behavior in a new movement WWF is calling an eco-wakening’.

Individuals are acting on their concerns and demanding action. The report shows a 65% rise in the volume of twitter posts related to biodiversity and nature loss—increasing from 30 million to 50 million —in the last four years. It also finds that year on year, growing concern about the universal threat to nature has been working its way up the media agenda. In 2019, global news coverage of environmental protests increased by 103%, in part due to the rise of global activism as increasing numbers of people campaigned for leaders to take action.

The value nature provides to the global economy is estimated at $44 trillion – more than half of global GDP – and the financial sector has a critical role to play in shifting financial flows away from unsustainable activities and creating a net zero, nature-positive global economy. Companies and financial institutions are increasingly recognizing the risks associated with nature loss, and are putting nature at the heart of their strategies.

Consumers are in the driver’s seat; existing research shows that consumers not only say they want companies to do better when it comes to supporting the environment, but they are changing their behavior in support of these beliefs. This is shifting profit pools, challenging historically high returns in some areas, while opening billion-dollar opportunities in others.

“Thankfully many companies are answering this call, either by offering more responsible products or, even better, transforming their entire value chain to prioritize the environment. From sourcing to production, consumers want to trust that what they buy is sustainable,” said Bonini. “For companies that aren’t yet there, this research proves that it’s time to act or be left behind in the marketplace.”

Consumer behavior plays a critical role in driving change and demonstrating care for nature. This pressure has compelled brands to make and keep substantial sustainability commitments. For instance, over 50% of C-Suite executives say that consumer demand is driving the focus on sustainability in the fashion and textile industry. As a result, 65% of organizations in a recent survey said they had committed to sourcing sustainably-produced raw materials, and 60% now collect data on supply-chain sustainability – including the use of water and other natural resources in their production processes.

Other large companies are following suit, and committing to safeguarding biodiversity and nature. In the food, cosmetic and natural pharmaceutical industries, the number of companies committed to sourcing practices that protect biodiversity increased by 45% from 2016 to 2020.

Loss of nature is also increasing our vulnerability to pandemics, undermining efforts to tackle the climate crisis, and threatening livelihoods. Leaders are scheduled to make critical decisions later this year on climate and the environment beginning at next month’s G-7 Summit. Together, they represent a momentous opportunity to reverse biodiversity loss and secure a nature-positive world this decade.