The other week I argued that shopping and voting were not the same thing, and that we should not mistake "ethical consumerism" for political engagement. It's an assertion I stand by. Nevertheless, being strategic about where we spend our money can be a powerful force for building a better world.
So news last year that UK spending on conscious consumer products like Fair Trade had bucked the recession was significant indeed, and it looks like that trend has continued. James Murray over at Business Green reports that 2011 also saw huge growth in ethical consumerism, and suggests that this heralds both good and worrisome news for green business.
On the plus side, he argues, the fact that consumers have been unwilling to compromise their principles despite a flat economy—coupled with the fact that mainstream retailers are converting entire product lines like bananas and sugar to Fair Trade—suggests that the health of the market is solid. With poll numbers showing overwhelming support for renewable energy too, it seems fair to suggest that the market appetite for change stretches well beyond Fair Trade coffee. (He does note that sales of electric cars and organics have been disappointing) But more worrying is the complete lack of attention paid to the sometimes astounding growth rates by the mainstream media and policy makers:
The corridors of Whitehall and Fleet Street are so far behind the level of green understanding and ambition on display in most boardrooms and living rooms as to be laughable. The appetite for more sustainable business models and products is everywhere you look, and yet there is a huge reluctance in the mainstream media to report on this fundamental shift in the way many firms operate, just as there is a reluctance in government to celebrate and enable this shift.
Even here though, says Murray, things are beginning to shift, with policy makers finally realizing that supporting fossil fuels and energy hungry industries is, by default, holding back more innovative, more promising sectors of the economy.
With 85% of the population on this side of the Atlantic demanding better environmental coverage, it may be high time we start demanding better coverage of green business and sustainability too.
Head over to Business Green for Marray's full piece on the lessons of the Fair Trade boom for the green economy in general.