Green is the colour? Sagaci Research publishes new report on African attitudes to sustainability

Despite the fact they are very low polluters in per-capita terms, most African consumers are eager to do their bit to help preserve the environment  

Sagaci Research has just published a report entitled “Consumer Reflection on Sustainability Across Africa.” Based on 2,800 interviews conducted online with consumers across all income groups in five countries (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa) during mid-2020 using its SagaPoll smartphone app, the survey sheds light on local attitudes to such issues as climate change and water and wildlife conservation, in addition to how these attitudes impact the daily lives and purchasing habits of local consumers.

The survey paints a picture of African consumers as environmentally aware, with many viewing the natural world as something to be cared for and protected. In spite of the fact that Africa accounts for only a very small proportion of total global pollution, they are eager to play their part by using less plastic, conserving water and choosing products with recyclable packaging – even though many still lack access to recycling facilities.

However, they are not dewy-eyed environmentalists – feeding their families remains the top priority for most. Nonetheless, a large majority recognise that climate change will affect their daily lives. This concern is well founded, as higher temperatures may make some parts of Africa virtually unhabitable and perhaps exacerbate political instability in regions like the Sahel, while heavier rains will play havoc with agriculture. Moreover, most African governments have very limited resources at their disposal to cope with the impact of climate change.

While a significant proportion of consumers in all five countries think that the threat posed by climate change is exaggerated, most still feel a responsibility to deal with this problem, in spite of the fact that Africans did very little to cause it (in the sense that per-capita carbon emissions in Africa remain much lower than in the rest of the world).

Environmental awareness impacts daily life, but it is not the top priority of most

In all five countries, at least 75% of respondents said they ‘fully agreed’ with the statement that “Nature is one of my country’s main asset, and we need to preserve it as much as we can,” with this figure approaching 90% in Kenya. Meanwhile, 81% of Kenyan consumers said they were ‘very concerned’ with conserving water in their day-to-day lives, compared with 79% of Ghanaians, 73% of South Africans, 66% of Nigerians, and just 38% of Ivorians.

However, like many of their counterparts elsewhere in the world, most African consumers do not put the environment first. With the exception of Ivory Coast, less than 15% of respondents in these countries either ‘strongly disagreed’ or ‘tended to disagree’ with the statement: “Protecting the environment is important, but my first priority is to feed my family.”

Many Africans feel a duty of care towards the environment

When asked about the first word that came to mind when thinking about ‘sustainability,’ words evoking responsibility and duty, such as ‘preservation,’ ‘protection,’ and ‘care’ were among the top three words mentioned in four out of the five countries surveyed. In only two countries, Ghana and South Africa, did ‘resources’ make the top three, where it ranked third and second, respectively.

This may reflect the importance of resource extraction, especially mining, particularly to the South Africa economy – it was the only one of the five countries surveyed where neither ‘preservation,’ ‘protection,’ nor ‘care’ featured among the top three words. In all five countries, at least seven-out-of-ten consumers thought more should be done to protect wildlife in their countries, with this figure reaching 86% in Kenya – perhaps reflecting the importance of wildlife to that country’s tourism industry and its self-image.

A significant number feel the threat posed by climate change is exaggerated

That is not to say that South Africans are the West Virginians of Africa – putting the good of the local mining industry before all else. Just 27% of South Africans thought that the threat posed by global warming/climate change is exaggerated (either ‘tending to agree’ or ‘fully agreeing’ with this statement), a significantly lower figure than Ivory Coast (63%), Ghana (49%), or Nigeria (43%) but slightly higher than Kenya (25%). These figures suggest that more needs to be done to educate people about the risks posed by climate change, particularly in West Africa.

However, a majority in all five countries both agreed that climate change is man-made and acknowledged that it would impact their daily lives. Moreover, most are not prepared to shirk their responsibility to tackle it: Relatively few respondents ‘fully agreed’ or ‘tended to agree’ with the contention that “Africans did not cause climate change, and it should not be our responsibility to deal with it.” This figure ranged from 29% in Nigeria to just 16% in Kenya.

Consumers are eager to use less plastic and recycle more – but it is not always easy

Environment considerations also impact purchasing choices. Around half of Kenyans and Ghanaians and more than two fifths of South Africans and Nigerians claimed that packaging recyclability was a ‘strong concern’ when buying products, compared with just a third of Ivorians. Around half of Ivorians and Ghanaians said they ‘often’ took packaging waste into account when buying food products, compared with around two fifths of Kenyans and Nigerians and a third of South Africans.

However, around half of respondents in Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria said they found it ‘very difficult’ or ‘somewhat difficult’ to recycle items. In South Africa and Kenya, this figure was around 40%. At least four fifths of consumers in all five countries thought more could be done to encourage recycling locally, with this figure reaching 88% in Kenya. Meanwhile, more than 70% of consumers in Ghana, South Africa, Ivory Coast, and Kenya say they were making an effort to reduce the amount of plastic they use in their daily lives. At 59%, this figure was significantly lower in Nigeria.

In all five countries, well over 90% of respondents said that they either ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘somewhat agreed’ with the contention that the home care, oral care, and beauty and personal care products that they used did not harm the environment. Meanwhile, at least three quarters of respondents in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria said they would be willing to pay ‘slightly more’ for a sustainable product, with this figure reaching 83% in the latter country. At 63%, this figure was somewhat lower in South Africa.

The world’s youngest continent seeks to safeguard the future

With by far the youngest population in the world (four out of five these countries have a median age of less than 21 years), Africa arguably has a bigger stake in protecting the environment than their counterparts in any other part of the world. With smartphones increasingly ubiquitous in daily life, they are more aware of environmental issues than ever, and environmental considerations are playing an increasingly important role in their consumption habits, purchasing decisions, and lifestyle choices.



2,800 interviews across Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire using our proprietary online panel (smartphone-based).
Sample split: 57% male and 43% female, 75% urban and 25% rural.
Period: July 2020

Follow us @SagaciResearch

Want to know more? Reach out to us at