'Moralistic' environmentalists turn people off buying green

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Poll shows that consumer willingness to buy ethical products has fallen, but the recession may not be the only cause

There has been a fall in consumer willingness to buy ethical products over the past two years, according to a MORI poll.

Today, 56 per cent of people are prepared to pay more for products that meet ethical standards compared to 68 per cent in 2007 and 63 per cent in 2005.

But confusion and distrust of ethical products remains high with 71 per cent admitting to having difficulty judging ethical standards and 73 per cent of people believing companies pretend to be ethical just to sell more products.

Given the choice, 53 per cent would only work for a company which was both ethical and environmentally responsible (compared to 64 per cent in 2005 and 66 per cent in 2007).

Business distrust

Michael Solomon, director of SEE What You Are Buying Into, which commissioned the poll, said consumer distrust of business may have played a part in the decline in ethical consumption.

'The majority of people still find it difficult to decide which products or companies are genuinely ethical and which labels to trust.

'Given that the Fairtrade Mark will soon adorn Kit Kats, made by Nestlé, reportedly the most boycotted company in the UK, perhaps consumers can be forgiven for being unsure,' he said.

Consumer apathy

However, Mr Solomon said the decline in ethical consumption since 2007 may not be entirely because of the recession.

'Given that the recession has been largely blamed on the imprudent, even unethical, practices of the financial sector, one might also have expected views of business and its trustworthiness to have deteriorated - but this is not evidently not the case.

'It may be that the decline represents part of a backlash against what some perceive to be the moralistic and over-zealous approach of the environmental movement,' he said.

He said the psychology of consumers was perhaps now playing an important role. 'People have found different ways of saying it doesn't matter so much to me anymore and that is one of the reasons for the fall in suspicion.'

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