Mainstreaming Ethical Consumption


Ethical Consumer Magazine’s Annual Conference was held last week, with a focus on ‘mainstreaming ethical consumption’. It got us thinking about what ethical consumption really means and how we can get more people involved. Is ethical consumption the same as sustainable consumption? And who’s definition of ‘ethical’ are we using anyway?

If we took one message away from the day it was that while a perfectly ethical form of consumption might not exist, we must continue striving towards it. It’s difficult to live sustainably in our culture as we often have to travel to work and so many of our goods and services come from large corporate companies with complex supply chains (and large carbon footprints!). There are companies out there offering alternatives however, so here are three case studies highlighting efforts to mainstream ethical consumption.



‘Why do we need Fairphone?’ I hear you say. ‘Are other phones unfair?’ Well yes, yes they are. The supply chain for your average smartphone is so much more complex than your average shirt and most likely involves mining for conflict minerals and workers toiling away for a pittance in factories. Fairphone is a social enterprise established to offer the consumer an alternative. They put social and environmental values first in creating their own smartphone, all the while increasing awareness of the issues in the hopes that big industry players will follow suit. They are about to launch Fairphone 2, and although they openly admit it’s not a 100% ethical device, they are creating a buzz around a better way to stay connected.


Divine Chocolate

Divine had their work cut out breaking into the competitive confectionary industry but they did it, and in doing so shift from an ethical company producing chocolate to a chocolate brand that just so happens to be ethical. The fair trade chocolate brand was originally established in the UK in 1998 as a company limited by shares co-owned by the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa farmers' co-operative in Africa. They now turnover £8m in the UK, where you can find Divine in major supermarkets as well as Oxfam and fair trade stores. They ‘mainstreamed’ their fair trade chocolate by focusing on product and branding, continuing to innovate with flavours and products for Christmas and Easter. Like any good fair trade brand, they knew product quality and price always come first, even in the eyes of the ethical consumer.


Forest Stewardship Council

The FSC is a non-profit organisation working globally to keep ‘Forests For All Forever’. They encourage sustainable forestry, educate trade and the public and certify products that meet their ethical credentials. It’s now easy to pick up FSC certified wood and paper products on the high street from the likes of Homebase, John Lewis and WH Smith. FSC is the only wood certification scheme endorsed by the major environmental charities, including WWF, Greenpeace and The Woodland Trust. And it doesn’t just benefit nature; workers are protected under FSC initiatives to ensure better conditions for those whose livelihood relies on the timber trade.

Actions are being taken to change the way we consume forever. Although just 5-10% of consumers always make ethically-minded decisions (according to Ethical Consumer), everyone is unconsciously becoming that bit more sustainable due to the actions of other organisations and businesses shaping the market. It’s an exciting time for ethical shoppers!

Emma Waight
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