It’s easy for a CSR professional and full-time ethical consumer (isn’t that an oxymoron?) to get excited when a another credible study unleashes tantalising phrases including:
‘Purpose is the 5th ‘P’ of marketing‘ and
‘86% of global consumers believes that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business interests‘.
I want more than anything for Edelman’s 2010 Good Purpose Study to be genuinely representative of mainstream consumers but my gut feeling is that it probably falls on the optimistic side of the fence.
Ok, over 7000 consumers in 13 countries is a decent sample size, better than those of the 100 or so sized sample groups accompanying UK cosmetics TV commercial claims anyway, but I’d love to know more about the methodology before getting carried away quite yet. There has been a steady stream of similar information on consumer expectation and spending behaviour including this interesting recent report from Co-operative Financial Services and in other similarly themed reports, all despite the economic crisis harbingers of ethical doom.
Like the CSR agenda itself, the practical evidence of ethical consumerism is sometimes less tangible than we require to convince an as yet still sceptical mainstream audience, as they are both still immature concepts when it comes to precise measurement. We assume they are impacting because many feel, or want, it to be so. Either way the wisdom of crowds if often close to the money.
To offer some counterpoint here I remember one of Timberland’s Stakeholder Engagement Call where I had to agree with the quote by David Labistour, CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, when he replied to my question, that ‘the consumer is the weak link in the whole thing (sustainability)’.
Without getting into a debate around semantics here I believe both sides of these messages ring true. Mainstream consumers are definitely increasingly knowledgeable and are exercising their associated opinions through their spending more than ever, and there is also a growing hardcore ethical consumer demographic. Maybe the mixed messages are the result of the impatience of those surrounded by ethical and environmental sustainability issues on a daily basis either as professionals or impassioned consumers.
There is an overlooked added benefit to this growing ethical demand. This movement could suggest new opportunities for smaller businesses to exploit this growing demand for ethical products by offering locally sourced, less industrialised, hand crafted, organic, eco-friendly, Fairtrade niche products that the inflexible corporate world will struggle to deliver. Could we be about to see a tipping point where ethical consumerism steers greater demand to a more sustainable smaller business production marketplace?
Are you an ethical consumer? Is the mainstream market really heading down the ethical avenue?
… and don’t forget to buy ethical for Christmas!