BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 18 Dec '18

Young, environmentally aware consumers are helping to drive a remarkable increase in consumer spend across key ethical sectors

Last year UK consumer spend on ethical products, across 27 sectors, reached £83.3 billion, according to the Ethical Consumer Markets Report.

The latest Ethical Consumer Markets Report shows that consumers are choosing more sustainable options as their concern for the environment grows, with ethical retail spend increasing across food and drink and clothing. This is in sharp contrast to broader UK retail sales, which fell in 2017 for the first time since 2013, and remain challenging.

Spending on ethical food and drink has increased by 16.3%, the largest increase since 2012, and is fuelled by the growing sales of vegetarian products. The ethical food and drink spend is now worth £11,008 million, more than triple the amount spent a decade ago.

Fast fashion and microplastics

With the revelations of the environmental impact of ‘fast fashion’ and our use of plastics hitting the headlines, spend on ethical clothing increased by 19.9% and buying second-hand clothing for environmental reasons by 22.5%, whilst the value of the green energy market grew an astonishing 56.3% in 2017.

Rob Harrison, director of Ethical Consumer said there’s a growing awareness of the impact our personal choices at the shops have on the environment; it’s no coincidence, he said, that we’ve seen such sharp increases in sales of ethical products and services.

‘Over the last two years communities across the UK have experienced first hand the terrible impact of changing weather patterns, as well as witnessing devastation across the globe’, Rob explained. ‘Environmentally conscious consumers concerned about climate change are now choosing to use green energy, opting for suppliers that can guarantee they will be accessing power from renewable sources.’

At the same time, revelations around the harm caused by microplastics entering our oceans have exposed the problems caused by fast fashion and single-use plastics – everything from carrier bags, straws and coffee cups is widely regarded as damaging. ‘This is a huge moment and we should encourage more consideration of the impact of what we use and how to ensure we can live more sustainably’, Rob said.

A young revolution

A YouGov opinion survey about ethical consumer behaviour exposed growing environmental concern. Over a quarter (27%) of those who responded to the survey stated that in the past year they had avoided buying or using a product or service due to its negative environmental impact – an increase of 65% since 2016.

Younger people are the most likely age group to avoid buying or using a product or service that has negative impact on the environment in the last year, with 34% of 18- to 24-year-olds, and 29% of 25- to 34-year-olds reporting it was a reason for them to withhold spending. 64% of those surveyed had made some dietary decisions for environmental reasons or animal welfare in the past year, which may explain the increases in sales of vegetarian and vegan products.

‘Over the years, the Markets Report has repeatedly shown the significant impact that government measures can have on ethical spending. The solar panel market boomed after the government introduced Feed-In Tariffs in 2010, before declining when they were curtailed in 2012, prior to being cut last year. Similarly, steady growth in energy efficient boilers and household appliances has been backed by government legislation setting efficiency standards.

‘This year’s report shows that government policy has the power to control green markets. At a time when the cost of unsustainable purchases is increasingly known, we hope that they will act to support consumers who despite living through an extended period of austerity, and continued future uncertainty, are increasingly making every day purchases as ethically as possible. These big ticket items like cars and solar panels clearly still need the support of government to help consumers who want to play their part in a more sustainable way of life in the UK.’

ROB HARRISON
Director at Ethical Consumer

Vegetarian and vegan

Sales of vegetarian products were up 14.5% in 2017 and the recent survey found that 11% of people reported to be vegetarian and 3% vegan – an increase of 52% and 153% respectively since 2016.

For those still eating meat or fish, a growing number are also seeking more environmentally friendly options, with 19% trying to eat fish rather than meat, and sales of sustainable fish up an impressive 30.0%.

Ethical Consumer’s Rob Harrison said: ‘Various agencies and campaign groups have been encouraging the UK public to take personal action to help prevent further climate change devastation. The advice has included opting for a meat free diet, switching to electric vehicles, using green energy and insulating homes. With that in mind we expect growth to continue to be reported in these areas in future reports.’

Green markets and government policy

The report has also highlighted that government changes to taxation and subsidies have caused the collapse of two key green markets. Falling sales for solar panels and energy-efficient cars (excluding electric and hybrid vehicles) accounted for the slow growth seen by the ethical market overall, which at +2.5% was outstripped by inflation.

Sales of solar panels fell by 87.4% in 2017 after the government reduced support for at-home solar energy generation and the market for energy efficient cars fell by 28.4% following changes to road taxation. If the decline in solar panel sales and energy-efficient cars is excluded, growth in ethical spending looks healthy at 5.5%.

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