UK ethical market 2012

Ethical Consumerism Report 2012


The Co-operative’s annual report on the state of the UK market for ethical products was published on December 29th 2012. Encouragingly, it shows ethical sales continuing to grow for the fourteenth consecutive year. During 2011, the value of ethical sales rose by 4.66% when the UK economy, in its fourth year of recession, grew by only 0.3%.1


Big institutions

Barry Clavin, Sustainability Reporting Manager at The Co-operative, explains how much growth this time was down  to big businesses changing their supply chains. “During the downturn we’ve seen some of the biggest ever Fairtrade conversions, be it in chocolate or sugar, and business is beginning to respond to the challenge to provide consumers with more sustainable products and services such as fish, palm oil and soya.”

The motor industry has also developed more varieties of electric car and, coupled with tax incentives, this has contributed to a 28% rise in green car sales in the year.

Regulatory interventions have also been important elsewhere with, for example, the generous feed-in-tariffs leading to nearly £1 billion being spent by consumers on solar panels (micro-generation) in 2011 – a growth rate of 286% on the previous year.


Ethical money

Ethical money, which continues to represent nearly half of the £47bn total value of the ethical economy, rose by only 1.1%. The launch of the Move Your Money campaign in the UK didn’t happen until February 2012, so is unlikely to have impacted on this year’s figures. In addition, the general trend in recessions is that people save less, and may dip into their savings (if they have them) to maintain living standards in the lean years.2

So while many more people may be converting to ethical banks, the overall funds saved may be depleted. Movements in the stock market impact on the value of ethical funds which are also measured in this section.


Cost consciousness

All ethical consumers are sensitive to price in some way, and none are immune to the recession. Organic food, which can sometimes be very much more expensive, has suffered particularly. However the decline in sales from a high of £1.9bn in 2008 appears to have now stabilised at around £1.5bn. Fairtrade products, which are intended not to differ too much from mainstream market prices, have fared much better.

Sales of ethical clothing, often much more expensive than the sweatshop-produced mainstream, also appeared to be victims of the recession, with sales falling by 15% during 2011.


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The Ethical Consumerism Report 2012 was produced by The Co-operative Group, with additional research by Ethical Consumer