Green consumers or green consumption

12 June 2008 at 9:47 pm Leave a comment

Thanks to treehugger.com

Rachel Claydon writes:

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the ‘blizzard’ of ethical and eco-labels and product claims from companies. And with companies such as Renault producing images of (slightly more energy efficient) cars with leaves coming out of their exhaust, and P&G putting an ‘earth friendly’ stamp on their washing powder, this seems to be a reasonable critique.

What does this sea of green marketing activity mean for the growing numbers of consumers trying to ‘do their bit’? There seem to be three possibilities:

  1. gritting their teeth and working harder to unearth the genuinely ethical products;
  2. giving up on the endeavour in cynical frustration; or
  3. enjoying the new array of ‘guilt-free green products’ now on offer.

The ethical livers (likely to go down route 1) are now well-established, and may even enjoy having to work harder to identify truly sustainable choices. But it will become harder. Sustainability design guru John Thakara fears that an growing number of green standards will cancel each other out, creating too much noise as each brand measures itself by different criteria, making comparison impossible. Consumers may respond by assessing green product claims themselves through sites like greenwashingindex.

Those who are less committed to sustainable lifestyles are unlikely to make such efforts. Eco-labels will stop being a purchase short cut for those short of time (after all, most of us wouldn’t choose to spend our time evaluating the competing ethical claims of different baked bean brands). But worse, consumers may become disillusioned with unfounded and confusing claims. Sustainability communications experts Futerra believe that the consequences could be bad (opens in pdf):

“Without confidence in the claims, consumers are reluctant to exercise the power of their green purchasing, as they no longer know who or what to believe. This puts the whole market for the ‘green pound’ in danger and might damage the virtuous circle of companies promoting their green products, consumers choosing them over non-green products thereby encouraging business towards greater greenness”.

I’m personally more worried about the third option, that consumers will unquestioningly embrace every new supposedly ‘ethical’ product that finds its way onto the shelves. Most people want to hear that they can do the ‘right thing’ without having to make too much effort. We’d rather buy organic mange tout from Kenya in January than work out how to cook seasonal swede; rather install energy efficient light bulbs than stop taking short haul flights. This said, campaigners such as the WWF are now challenging [opens in pdf] the prevailing wisdom that we’ll achieve pro-environmental behaviour change through small, painless steps. More please.

{And thanks to treehugger for the picture].

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Entry filed under: behaviour change, consumers, sustainability.

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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