We are pleased to report a selection of news items that show consumers are keen to maximise the impact of the ethical pound in their pocket by ensuring that the goods and services they buy are socially and environmentally friendly.
However, this trend towards ethical consumerism coincides with a boom-time for the cheap and cheerful high-street fashion retailers such as Asda, Primark, TK Maxx and Matalan. While the Co-Op reports the market for ethical clothing is up 79% to £52 million, this still represents a tiny proportion of sales of cheap clothing which in the UK is believed to stand at around £6 billion – and is also a sector of the market which is growing very fast.
Value clothing (as industry insiders prefer to call this market segment) now represents a real dilemma for many shoppers. While they are concerned about sustainability and ethical sourcing, they also experience the harsh realities of the rising cost of many other items of household expenditure. Cheaper clothes are one way fashion conscious shoppers can trade downwards without losing out.
Campaigners will continue to argue (rightly so) that consumers should pay more for their clothes to ensure that the overseas workers who produce them earn a fair wage. But the market realities are driving a different behaviour as we see people buying the latest cheap fashions, wearing them for a relatively short time and then getting a warm glow as they ‘recycle’ them in the local charity shop.
Ethical spending on the up
Household expenditure on ethical goods and services has almost doubled in the past five years, according to the eighth Co-operative Bank Ethical Consumerism Report. The report, which provides an indicator of ethical spending and boycotts, reveals that last year British households spent on average £664 on ethical goods, an increase of 81% compared to 2002. However, despite the growth in the value of the UK’s ethical market in 2007, it remains a small proportion of the total annual consumer spend. Overall, sales of ethical clothing increased by 79% and ethical food and drink by 17%, with fair trade goods increased by 46% and sustainable fish by 224%. Contact The Co-operative Bank 08457 212 212 www.co-operativebank.co.uk
Shop to stop poverty
UK consumers rate ethical shopping as a better way to tackle world poverty than giving to charities, according to new research from the UK Department for International Development. The research, published on December 18, found that 74% of adults in the UK think they can help reduce poverty in the developing world through their shopping choices. However, it also found that only 30% of consumers would ask retailers where a product was sourced, which highlights the need for consumers to question the origin of products and materials more often. The research was carried out by ICM Research on behalf of DFID and 2010 adults were interviewed. Contact DFID www.dfid.gov.uk
Transparent food production
The Global Reporting Initiative has established a working group to provide sustainability indicators for food processing activities. This has been in response to demand for increased transparency in the production of food. The aim of the working group is to enable companies and stakeholders to better measure and communicate progress towards sustainability. Nestlé, Bunge, Tyson Foods and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters were the first companies to commit to multi-stakeholder development of GRI’s indicators for sustainability reporting. Contact GRI 0031 20 531 0000 www.globalreporting.org
Two thirds of consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly energy and almost half would pay more for environmentally friendly products, according to a survey by global IT services firm, IBM. The survey – Plugging in the Consumer: Innovating utility business models for the future – reveals that consumers want to be proactive in their energy decision-making but they lack the knowledge to do so. The survey also found that 61% of consumers questioned would change their energy-consuming behaviour, like heating and cooling homes, doing the laundry and cooking, in response to claims that there would be a positive environmental impact from such changes. Contact IBM 0870 542 6426 www.ibm.com