Are ethical shoppers really just trendy hypocrites?

Shopping ethically has never been more popular than it is now. At least, that’s what studies seem to suggest.
Are ethical shoppers really just trendy hypocrites?

In 2013, only 2% of consumers were interested in a sustainable lifestyle. Today, the response is nearly unanimous: the brand's values demonstrate influence on whether shoppers will support them.  

As is so often the case, the younger generation is the most wrapped up in this trend. According to a study conducted by the State of Fashion, 66% of Millennials claim they’re ready to spend more at a business concerned about sustainable development.

Sustainable or responsible consumerism means favoring products and services that have been created specifically to benefit society positively.

Yet, these bold statements from consumers appear to be just empty words. Their good intentions aren’t translating into today’s real spending habits.

To illustrate this phenomenon, let’s observe Oeko-Tex, an association that assembles independent professionals in textile research, and their example of a batch of clothing that is fair-trade certified. For 60% of declared interest, only a third of consumers move beyond intention into the act of purchase. According to a survey conducted by eMarketer, products’ functionality, quality, and aesthetics dominate the brand’s values during the act of purchase, regardless of the generation.


Once again, the significance that consumers attribute to a brand’s values remains strictly a declaration. In truth, many clients panic in a supermarket aisle, guiltily placing an organic carton of eggs back on the shelf as they opt for one that is 50% cheaper.

In other words, though consumers’ environmental consciousness is slowly coming to fruition, the cost and function of the product remain the factors that hold the biggest impact on their decisions.

Move over greenwashing; we need to discuss consumers’ environmental schizophrenia. Green products remain a niche market, and the individual advantages of a product take precedence over its advantages for the collective.

Certain companies like Whole Foods Market, Stonyfield, or Patagonia have convinced segments of the population to follow their tracks. It took a lot more than a few isolated ethical products and a bit of luck for these brands to become successful. They repeatedly promise profound engagement; it’s written in the companies’ DNA and strengthened every year.

Considering the rate at which ethical consumerism is gaining in the public interest, the commercial opportunities are tremendous. However, we’re a long way from convincing every consumer to put their money where their mouth is.