Ethical spending triples in past decade, says Co-op Bank

The Co-op Bank has just published its ninth Ethical Consumerism Report. This story in yesterday’s Guardian also covers the key facts and figures.

Despite the economic downturn, ethical spending by consumers continues to rise, according to the report, with overall ethical spending rising from £13.5bn in 1995 to almost £35.5bn at the end of 2007. In 2008, on average, every household in the UK spent £707 in line with their ethical values. Are social enterprises that operate in the consumer marketplace doing everything they can to capture a bigger share of this spending?

While ethical spending remains a small part of overall consumer spending (over £600bn), the report reveals that generally speaking ethical markets have proven more resilient throughout the recession.

The greatest growth in ethical spending between 2006 and 2007 has been in:

  • Free range & ‘freedom’ foods, up from £18m to £28m (+56%).
  • Energy-efficient lightbulbs, up from £26m to £41m (+58%).
  • Fairtrade, up from £285m in 2006 to £458m in 2007 (+61%).
  • Ethical clothing, up from £52m to £89m (+71%).
  • Green cars, up from £96m to £223m (+132%).

Farmers’ markets and charity shops have been amongst the few ethical sectors to see a downturn.

The resilience of ethical markets, especially Fairtrade, should come as good news to social enterprises — if only the sector could find a successful way of building up the kind of goodwill and ‘brand identity’ the Fairtrade movement has.

But I wonder why the report includes no figures at all for spending with social enterprises? True, many social enterprises, perhaps the majority, are providing business-to-business and institutional services rather than consumer products, but this is by no means universally the case. Certainly, these figures would look dramatically different if social enterprise turnover was included.

As this is the last post for 2009, it’s time to wish our friends, colleagues and readers everywhere a happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year.

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