Riding the wave
Ethical Consumer began life studying what was going on in the society around us.
We observed impartially those actions which we thought we could categorise as ethical consumer behaviours, and then catalogued and reported on them for readers who wanted to become more active.
We were highly fortunate to launch the magazine just at the moment when a wave of interest in boycott activity was breaking over the shores of Britain and, for the first ten years, riding the wave was difficult but not impossible.
However, as ethical consumerism has become more and more mainstream, the wave has become a tsunami, and it has become increasingly difficult for us to keep abreast of the increasing rate of change.
This includes the growth of:
- new products arriving on the market with ethical claims
- campaigns targeted at markets by NGOs
- detailed social reporting by companies
- ethical consumer activity around the world
- sophisticated metrics to measure corporate impact.
Role of technology
It was the advent of home computers and desktop publishing which allowed three students with little money to set up a research and publishing organisation.
And it was the growth of the internet which has helped us to increase our reach and the quality of our research enormously since then.
ECRA’s development over the next twenty years will be as influenced by technological changes as it has been in the past and technology is central to our future strategies mapped out below.
Much talk these days is, for example, about how mobile phones are likely to be the way we all receive much of our information in the future, and we have worked with a number of people over the last few years looking at the idea of scanning product barcodes on a phone to receive an instant ethical score.
Like all print publishers there is also much talk about whether we will still have a print magazine in 20 years time.
All we know at this stage is that we like print, TV did not bring about the demise of books, and that we want to be producing a magazine for a long time to come.
Clearly though, it does depend on gaining and retaining readers to make this a worthwhile aspiration.
The role of politics
The other key influence on ECRA’s future development will, of course, be political changes.
It's likely that ethical consumer activity will continue to grow. Whether there is a trend towards more anti-consumerism (as there appears to be at the moment), or towards more direct action and boycotts, there is sure to be a community of citizen activists who are keen to keep abreast of it all.
Our task is to remain relevant, useful and, ideally, central to these developments for another 20 years.
ECRA has recently converted from a workers’ co-operative to a co-op with membership open to all our supporters.
If you want to help direct or support future projects, then why not take this opportunity to become a member of ECRA.
We’re currently exploring three strategies to carry ECRA forward into the next two decades.
1 - More Collaborative Research Processes
The notion of ‘crowd sourcing’ complex information through new technologies like wikis and forums has become a hot topic in business of late.
One key question will be how we maintain quality and manage conflict of interest in this new environment.
- experimental web forums to start this year for product reports, where companies,
- campaigners and consumers can add their comments as research goes on
- experimental technology to allow specialist campaign groups to add data directly to our ranking database
- technology to allow companies with new products or policies to add data directly to our core database
2 - A Global Network
Ethical investment research groups have formed a couple of rival global networks to share and exchange data. There is every likelihood that ethical consumer groups will do the same.
- a single ‘ECRA Partner’ in each country
- each partner will have access to, and rights to reproduce, all our data
- each partner must become a member of ECRA
- each partner must seek, in due course, to add data and local brands to the core ratings database
3 - Free Licensing of our Ethiscores
Why would people want to help us improve the quality of our data when it is sold to subscribers?
Our current answer to this is to make our ethiscores freely (or very cheaply) available to anyone else who wants to use them.
These might include:
- newspapers and magazines
- campaign and consumer groups
- mobile phone applications
- shopping websites
In theory this should also substantially increase the reach and influence of the ratings we work so hard to create.