October 21, 2020

The future of the planet, in the hands of the consumer

Every time we buy something we are giving a favorable vote to that company or brand and, in some way, we reward and encourage it to continue down that path. Hence the importance of the choice we make every time we go out to buy, be it food products, tourist vacations or clothing. This is the message that consumer organizations and conservation groups send to remember, as Greta Thunberg said, that “every change in history has come from the people”, that is, from each and every one of us.

And there are reasons for hope. The message is penetrating Spanish society and all national statistics on consumption are showing a growing increase in the acquisition of sustainable and ecological products compared to traditional ones. Although change is slow, more and more people are abandoning the consumer frenzy in the world of fashion and switching to ecological garments or, at least, not changing them every few months. Ethical banking, which invests its profits in sustainable projects, is gaining ground over traditional banking, with large investments in weapons and anti-ecological projects. The consumption of red meat is decreasing in benefit of a less carnivorous diet and bulk foods are increasingly in demand compared to those packaged in plastic, to give a few examples. There is almost always a green alternative to every anti-green offering.

Flower Graphic

The change in trend in buying habits is evidence. A study published by the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) in collaboration with the NESI Forum, shows that 73% of those surveyed claim to take into account ethical and ecological aspects in their consumption decisions.

Not only that: 62% of Spaniards believe that their consumption habits are a powerful weapon to change the world. 57% feel identified with the messages and advice of the so-called ‘new economies’ at the service of the planet and people, even though they do not always know these initiatives in detail.

In other words, the Spanish population has become aware, the first step on the long road towards reversing the destructive current consumer trends.

The OCU and NESI report, however, points out the barriers faced by consumers willing to switch to the ecological side: lack of information, high price and some difficulty in finding these products.

Even with higher prices, 10% of respondents say they are willing to pay an extra cost if it is justified.

Conscious consumption

It is true that most of society continues on the fringes of this process of change. As Marta González-Moro, promoter of Brands and Values ​​(who annually surveys the sustainable shopping habits of Spaniards) states, “conscious consumption, that which incorporates the ethical and responsible attribute in the purchasing equation, is still a consumption ‘ illustrated ‘which requires a certain effort and which underlies a previous training and awareness acquired based on an education in values. But, despite being a still minority group, responsible consumers are expanding their presence in the market and are forcing companies to change their operation and to ‘green’ their products.

Brands and Values ​​indicates in its latest report that only 18% of consumers consider the ‘quality-price’ factor as the most determining factor when choosing a product, a percentage that in 2017 was 21% of users and in 2015 it reached 30%. Instead, other factors now condition the purchase, such as the sustainable nature of the product or its ethical manufacture.

One of the great dangers is the ‘greenwashing’ or green face wash that many companies do

González-Moro adds that, according to its latest annual report, “45% say they would choose a brand over other similar ones for environmental reasons and 16% say they would even be willing to pay a little more for it.” The support of a brand for the most disadvantaged is also highly rewarded (64%). “All of this reaffirms that the buycot (rewarding those who does it well) gains weight compared to the boycott (punishing those who do it poorly),” he adds.

An obvious example of the progressive improvement in recent years is the field of food. A report by Ecovalia on the situation of the organic sector in Spain (with data from 2018) shows that the consumption of this type of food grew by 16.4% in a single year and more than 96% since 2012. The increase is especially noticeable in the last five years, when 6 out of 10 of its consumers have started to consume organic products.

The change of the current consumption system towards sustainable habits is in our hands.  Shutterstock
The change of the current consumption system towards sustainable habits is in our hands. Shutterstock

The figures may seem cold, but they mean that Spain is already in the 10th place in the world ranking in this type of product. And this is possible thanks, above all, to millennials (those born between 80 and 2000). 62% of organic food consumers are under the age of 45, according to reports, which shows that the future of this type of product is assured.

The company Ecological.bio, an environmental consultancy, emphasizes that among young parents there is a growing concern about giving their children a healthier diet and that they see organic products as the most appropriate option.

Attention to green deceptions

Now, in the face of this growing wave of green consumption by land, sea and air, experts advise remaining alert to ‘green face washes’ or greenwashing, that is, what are simply advertising hoaxes. There are many companies that, taking advantage of the demand for sustainable products, varnish as such offers that are not ecological at all.

As the biologist Cristina Novillo states on the ecologiaverde.com portal, “greenwashing includes different strategies to deceive the consumer or, to put it another way, not tell the whole truth or tell a half lie.”

With our purchases, we reward or punish companies and brands that deserve it.

One of the common practices of these face washes consists of advertisements and corporate image with many green tones and images of natural elements “to make consumers understand that they are respectful with the environment, even if they have not introduced any changes in their policies” . In other cases, “some brands advertise a product as ‘green’ when all they really do is comply with current environmental legislation,” he adds. And there are also many cases in which the vagueness of the messages predominates: “There are companies that give clues such as ‘we are working to reduce our carbon footprint’ or ‘we want our planet’: these would be examples of vague slogans, which do not inform the client of the commitment real ”, says Novillo.

Lifestyle graphic

But this strategy of deception or half-truths is increasingly ineffective, because, as stated by Marcas y Valores, consumers increasingly ask for certainty: «Citizens need facts to be able to believe: six out of ten believe it only if there is evidence to prove it, “says the promoter of this project.

Marta González-Moro summarizes the current situation by saying that “consumerism is consolidated as a trend: the citizen, more and more, uses consumption as a political act, voting for brands with each purchase and, therefore, noting what type of companies and productive system want ».

organic consumers graphic

For her, “the capitalism of the 21st century must be more humanistic and transformative. Only in this way will sustainable development be possible and saved from its own excesses. Thus, companies “have a moral duty to take sides in the face of social, environmental and economic challenges in a century radically different from the previous one,” he concludes.

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