It appears that demand for locally produced artisan food, from bread to craft beer, is driving a revival of local shopping.
Sales of ethical products in the UK grew by 3.2 percent in 2016 and is now worth £81.3 billion, according to data from Ethical Consumer and Triodos Bank.
The Ethical Consumer Markets Report has tracked data for ethical spending since 1999 across 27 business sectors. Key findings this year include growth in ethical food and drink sales of 9.7 percent, including organic, free range and vegetarian. Sustainable fish grew by almost 37%, with the sector now worth £694 million.
More than half (57 percent) of respondents to a YouGov survey of 2,000 people for Ethical Consumer said they had changed their diet in the last year because of environmental and animal welfare concerns, with vegetarianism up 30 percent.
Sales of ethical clothing increased by 22.4 percent, with the sector now worth £36 million. Shopping locally was up 13.3 percent, while purchases made in charity shops rose by 6.6 percent. The proportion of people saying they had shopped locally for environmental or ethical reasons rose six percentage points to 42 percent.
The green home category, which mainly covers energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, recorded a slight decline of 2.3 percent overall. Microgeneration of renewable energy fell sharply in 2016 as government cuts to feed-in-tariffs significantly reduced the number of new installations, including a halving of solar panels, taking the total value of the researcher’s microgeneration dataset to its lowest level since 2010.
On a more positive note, the number of households on a green electricity tariff grew by 54.7 percent, an increase of £119 million in a single year. Only around 1 percent of domestic energy tariffs use green energy, but analysis from June 2017 indicated that the cheapest green tariff was only £8 more expensive a year than the cheapest regular deal on the market, compared with a difference of £110 a year earlier.
Sales in the ethical transport sector declined by 2 percent in 2016, the first fall since the research began in 1999. The researchers cited a slump in sales of the most efficient cars in tax band A for this trend. However, registrations of new electric or hybrid cars rose by 22 percent, while their market share increased to 3.3 percent overall.
Rob Harrison, co-editor at Ethical Consumer, said: “The growth in local shopping is a particularly significant trend in a world where it can feel like everything is going online. It appears that demand for locally produced artisan food, from bread to craft beer, is driving a revival of local shopping.
"Shoppers increasingly want to know where their food comes from, and that it's come from somewhere as local as possible to reduce its carbon footprint. There has also been a big trend away from meat consumption generally. At Christmas time this could be, as they say, good news for turkeys.”
Triodos interviewed some of its customers about their Christmas shopping habits, which revealed ideas for a more sustainable Christmas. Tilly Martin from Oxford said: “We re-use where we can.
"We bought a small Christmas tree last year which we have kept in a pot and been watering all summer. We're looking forward to bringing it in and enjoying the two-tone effect of the contrasting light green new growth and the older, darker needles.”
Bristolian Karn Shah said he aims to buy gifts from local shops to reduce the carbon footprint of shipping that comes with online puchases. He also likes to buy people experiences such as a tasting tour at a local brewery or distillery, or a chocolate-making course. “The common theme is local, supporting the local economy, particularly those with an ethical or environmental mission,” he said.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.