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Keeping the faith

As the consumer purse is squeezed, will they continue to shop sustainably?

The world still reels from the shock of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, millions have been displaced and the cost-of-living soars.

All this hard on the heels of a pandemic that hasn’t gone away after more than two years of upheaval to people’s lifestyles and strains on the way they shop.

The upside is that the pandemic led to a wide-scale reappraisal of our impact on the planet and consumers have been willing to part with more cash for ethical and sustainable products. But will they still shop with their consciences when times are tough?

The Ethical Consumer Markets Report – a yearly research paper produced by the Co-op – has been charting this movement since 2010. The most recent figures showed a 24% increase in spending on ethical products between 2019 to 2020, with this slice of the consumer market now worth £122bn. Will this continue to find traction as the cost of global crises is counted?

While many people might trade down to cheaper products in hard times, evidence shows that they are less likely to opt for brands with dubious practices or that are seen to be more damaging than pricier competitors.

We’ve seen the rise of reliable kitemarks that signify the good practice of companies, for example the B Corporation movement which certifies businesses that meet high standards on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and materials sourcing. There are 640 accredited B-Corps in the UK, spanning 55 industries.

The lengths that founders go to attain this badge of honour, sweating over in-depth applications and audits, show how seriously this virtuous cadre of companies is taken by consumers.

As the economic fallout from the Ukraine crisis unfolds, consumers will find themselves having to tighten their belts even further. But while people will be looking for ways to economise, few will be willing to compromise on their morals to save a few quid.

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