The Rise of the Conscious Consumer: Why Businesses Need to Open Up

From The Guardian

By Jessi Baker

The general election is a matter of weeks away and every vote is to play for. But what if we could vote every day? In some ways we already do: every time we spend our cash we are making an active choice about the companies we support and the practices we endorse. Today, when corporations can be more influential than entire states, where we put our pounds is where the power lies. 

Photograph: Li Jundong/Li Jundong/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Photograph: Li Jundong/Li Jundong/Xinhua Press/Corbis

The problem is the world of business can be opaque and supply chains are murky, so it is difficult to confidently make an informed choice. 

Consider this: the retail manufacturing industry is the second most polluting industry on earth, second only to oil. According to Annie Leonard, an expert in overconsumption, only 1% of the materials used to produce our consumer goods are still in use six months after sale. Somewhere, the value of craftsmanship and of provenance has been lost. Price and speed are trumping value.

However, the tide is turning. Increasing awareness around these issues has led to a rise in what is known as conscious consumption, a movement of people who seek out ways to make positive decisions about what to buy and look for a solution to the negative impact consumerism is having on our world.

This is a growing tribe: a third of UK consumers claim to be very concerned about issues regarding the origin of products. A study from YouGov and the Global Poverty Project revealed that 74% of those surveyed would pay an extra 5% for their clothes if there was a guarantee workers were being paid fairly and working in safe conditions. If you’re thinking that 5% doesn’t sound like a lot, consider the fact that the fashion industry could take a staggering 125 million people out of poverty by adding only 1% of its profits to workers’ wages.

Issues such as equal pay, environmentally conscious manufacturing processes, prevention of counterfeit goods, human trafficking, responsible farming practices and overproduction of goods are all at the forefront of consumers’ minds when making these choices.

Greenwashing and a token CSR [corporate social responsibility] marketing campaign are no longer enough. In an increasingly open, digital world where authenticity is the buzzword of choice, businesses must keep up with growing demands for ethical behaviour and transparency in everything from employee rights and gender discrimination to the supply chain.