The most pressing issues currently facing the average UK consumer are animal welfare and promoting fair trade, with climate change barely raising a concern in comparison.

According to a new survey by the Co-op, only 4% rate climate change as their top ethical priority.

This is way below animal welfare (21%) and fair trade (14%) in a survey that gathered information from around 100,000 customers and members – from grocery shoppers to bank account holders – on what they regard as their own ethical priorities.

The Co-op is now using the information to shape its own policies, but the survey also highlights that although general awareness about ethical consumerism is rising there are still large gaps in the public’s understanding.

Three main categories emerged from the survey as the key areas of concern – ethical trading (27%), animal welfare (25%) and environmental impact (22%). And yet despite the awareness of environmental issues, the fact that only 4% highlighted climate change as a major concern suggests that the public remains confused about what the issue actually means.

It certainly adds weight to claims that with two very distinct sides to the climate change argument jostling for position, the lack of clear, concise and impartial information is antagonising the public. To make matters worse, those supposedly on the same side of the climate change debate have a tendency to argue amongst themselves.

So the good news appears to be that the UK’s consumers level of ethical awareness is continuing to rise.

The bad news is that confusion remains the dominant characteristic of one of the biggest debates of all – the future of our planet.

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2 responses »

  1. inel says:

    Did you see the survey questions posed by the Co-op? I could not find them on the Co-op website, but I wonder whether they were phrased in terms of shopping?

    The 100,000 shoppers were presumably shopping when they were surveyed — and my first thought is that you do not find products labelled “combats climate change” in the same way you find “good for the environment”, “no animals were harmed …” and “fair trade”.

    In other words, climate change is not a label that applies easily to products. If it did, it would be on many items, I am sure!

    The other point about interviewing consumers about climate change is that it goes against the grain for producers. By that, I mean that we need to consume less to tackle climate change, yet manufacturers and shops build businesses around an overriding goal to sell us more, not less.

    So, there is a natural conflict between being a consumer and being a person who cares specifically about climate change. However, it should not be that difficult to sell climate-benefitting choices to ethical consumers who already care about being fair to people and to animals and to the environment as a whole. It is just a different way of looking at the subject of living within our sustainable limits on one planet. As long as choices are being made towards the same end (reducing ghg emissions, for example), it does not matter how people reach their decisions. Less confusion would be a bonus 😉

  2. Paul Groves says:

    Although it is the Co-op’s grocery business that has released the survey, the 100,000 questioned stretched right across the business – so account holders with Co-op and Smile banks, CIS insurance and financial services etc – as well as Co-op members too (I’ve ammended the post accordingly – apologies).

    It puts a slightly different slant on things, but I think you still make a valid point. There is a natural conflict.

    There is also the “I’m doing my bit” mentality. People are prepared to do one or two things – such as buy fair trade and organic – but then that doesn’t always stretch to other areas, such as switching to public transport more often. They are seen as separate issues and a lot are happy to pick and choose the one that suits the best.

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