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Ethical Consumption Essay

Ethical Consumerism: The Local Food Company

rodrigo | January 13, 2017

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Executive Summary

The report aims to understand the concept of ethical consumerism, with the help of an organisation that operates ethically. The selected organisation is The Local Food Company in the UK. The Local food company is engaged in sourcing and delivery of fresh, local and organic food including fruits and vegetables (organic and non-organic), dairy, grocery baked products and household items. Firstly, the report will provide an introduction to ethical consumerism and ethical products. Secondly, the report will conduct a detailed analysis of The Local Food company ethical activities and its socially responsible business. Thirdly, findings from a short opinion survey based on consumer behaviour are presented, Lastly, the report will conclude with the key findings.

1. Introduction: Ethical consumerism

Consumers are getting more informed with the help of Internet and this is influencing their buying decisions. According to many scholars, the idea of ethical consumerism rose from the end of the 20th century due to increased media and ability to access information, and better availability of products (Newholm and Shaw, 2007). Ethical consumers have political, spiritual, religious, environmental and social motives for purchasing one product over other options (Harrison et al., 2005).

There are two types of purchase behaviour as stated by economists: traditional purchase behaviour and ethical purchase behaviour. People will normally buy the cheapest product but only if they are confident that the product is as good as slightly more costly options available (Beardshaw, 1992 cited in Harrison et al., 2005). This is known as traditional purchase behaviour. Sometimes, customers boycott a certain product or brand and opt for a fair labelled or environmental friendly product as they consider ethical means more important (Harrison et al., 2005). This type of behaviour is termed ethical purchase behaviour. An ethical consumer is not someone who is ignoring price and quality but is applying additional criteria when buying a certain product. Ethical consumerism can be defined as the degree to which the customers prioritise their own ethical concerns when making product choices (Shaw and Clarke, 1998). Ethical consumerism is linked with morality. According to Crane and Matten (2005), morality is related to the norms, beliefs and values embedded in the social processes that aims to define right or wrong for an individual or society. Ethical consumers can boycott a product if they read something unethical about a brand or they can simply purchase products, which are ethically sourced or have ‘fair trade’ tag. Ethical consumers consider the impact of their act of personal consumption on the society and environment. They don’t purchase product that are harmful to environment and respect animal and human rights. For example: purchasing free-range eggs; boycotting products manufactured by child, forced labour or labours who are offered low wages.

There are various products that fall into the ethical category are banking, cleaning, cosmetics & toiletries, dairy, energy finance, fashion, food, insurance, soft drinks, tea industry and travel. According to ethicalconsumer.org (2014), there are over 200 ethical products in different categories. for example, a washing machine to save water and energy, a cooker with the least environmental impact, baby bottle sterilizer and impact of plastic on environment; living wage of worker who manufacture clothes; materials use in shoes-pvc, leather, wool; purchasing a greener desktop computer; milk and animal welfare; low wages in banana industry; lead in lipstick; fair trade flowers; bio detergent for cleaner environment; green or eco insurance companies; mobile phone helping activists; human rights issues in constructing hotels, etc.

2. Review of an ethical organisation: The Local Food Company

The Local food company is engaged in sourcing and delivery of fresh, local and organic food including fruits and vegetables (organic and non-organic), dairy, grocery baked products and household items (The Local Food Company, 2014a). The company aims to source majority of products from Devonshire and West Country. It is a family business operating for over 200 years in Devon. The company is based at farm shop, Countrymen’s Choice at Ivybridge. The company has provided an alternative to supermarket online services. Being a small producer, it is successful as an online retailer. The company has been awarded for its green practices and ethical means of working. It includes Internet retailer of the year in 2006 for the South West, Green business of the year in 2007 and greening Devon finalist in 2007 EDBI awards. The company has proved how to run a sustainable food business. The company states, “At The Local Food Company we believe in a fair deal for our customers, our suppliers, the environment, animals and indeed for ourselves”.

The Local Food Company claims to operate ethically. “The Local Food Company are a very green and ethical business; we believe right now we are the greenest place you will be able to purchase food from in the UK” (The Local Food Company, 2014a).  In addition to ethical sourcing of product, a business is also regarded as socially responsible when it fulfil the needs and wants of different stakeholders such as customers, employees, suppliers and investors. Any businesses that incur ethical artefacts attract as well as retain investors, customers and employees. To formulate this aspect, we take into account the Local food company ethical trading policies (The Local Food Company, 2014b). In exercising business ethics aspect, the Local Food Company have registered all employees to trade unions and provided them with fair wages and equal treatment. The company is against child labour, deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure, forcing employees to work excessive hours and discrimination. In addition to this, the company has no tolerance to bribery, blackmailing and bullying aspects among the staff and the consumers (The Local Food Company, 2014b). The Local Food Company has improved working conditions for employees making it safe and hygienic, hence boosting the morale of employees as well as strengthening the bond between the company and consumers preferences based on the products they produce. In some areas, it also operates above the minimum standards required by law in terms of safety of employees, rewards and values. This shows that the company’s main motive is not just to earn profit but also consider their employees’ needs and wants. At Local Food Company, any member of the staff is free to view his or her sentiment and the company usually accepts the sentiment equally without racial prejudice as well as discrimination based on gender. It can be seen that the company works as a socially responsible business in terms of employment practices; different ethical policies of The Local Food company are clearly stated on the website.

The Local food company also promotes and encourages suppliers to follow ethical guidelines. All suppliers signed up have an e logo next to their goods. Also, there is no restriction placed on suppliers. Suppliers are free to sell from anywhere, via any number of outlets to buyers. However, the company monitors supply chain standards for unethical practices. Direct suppliers are asked to sign the acknowledgement of key trading ethical practices (The Local food Company, 2014b). Then after 1 year of work together with supplier, The Local Food Company introduces self-assessment questionnaire to promote ethical practices. Then, the company visits supplier farms on a regular basis to gain understanding of suppliers’ operation. Payment is made on time and done on the basis of market price (The Local food Company, 2014b).

In order to attract customers, the company presents their ethical achievements so that customers can make informed purchasing decisions. The company engages in publishing policies, detailed supplier and product information on their website. In the first two years of trading, the company publishes comprehensive ethical and social charter giving consumers the freedom to access information about ethically sourced products (The Local Food Company, 2014b).

It is good to know that any company within business platform needs to set out ethical guidelines that in turns lead to less risk hence increasing sales output. Based on this point, The Local Food Company in array of business produces various products including Bakery, Dairy, Meat and fish, Fruit and Vegetables, Prepared Ready Meals, Groceries and Drinks and Household items. These products however, are produced based on the standards bureau and local organic food regulations. The company has to ensure that buyers as well as suppliers are free with no restrictions to buy and sell the products anywhere and across the country on any outlets. In this way, the company ethically gives the buyer and suppliers all rights to their preferences without an essence of restrictions. The company has been able to drive business risks through these corporate forms of business to maintain maximal sales profit as far as financial outcomes of the business is concerned (Beauchamp, 2004).

The Local Food Company has played a bigger role in encouraging small producers to implement ethical practices. To ascertain the aspect of ethics, the company exercises the aspect of ‘go green’. The company ensures that all products unveiled to the consumers are in better conditions; with highest order of hygiene and that all materials used are environmental friendly. The company sells food with a low footprint in collection and delivery. They claim to have lowest carbon footprints of all the businesses in the UK (The Local Food Company, 2014c). The company encourages customers to but locally and regionally, and cut food miles. Foods are based on high animal standards and sustainable farming practices. The company provides written guidelines on the waste disposal and insists on recycling programme for the benefit of the consumers. They reduce, reuse, and recycle everything possible.

3. Short opinion survey: what influences consumer buying behaviour

A short opinion survey was carried out from a sample of students at GSM London. Students were asked about the main factors that influences buying behaviour. Most of the students considered the location of the store as an important aspect when purchasing a product. One of the student stated, “I don’t like to travel much for a product and always looking for options available near my location such as Starbucks coffee shop that can be found anywhere”. Some students also considered that they avoid stores that are crowded. Students also considered reading online reviews before making a buying decision. A student said, “If I am planning to buy something, I always search online reviews, if majority of reviews are positive, I make a purchase without thinking of the brand”.  Few students mentioned about ethical behaviour in purchasing. They stated that after reading about a brand in news about forced labour or child labour, they boycotted the brand. A group of students mentioned about Rana plaza disaster, which changed the way they purchased products. The disasters resulted in number of deaths and injuries. Consumers regarded this as a serious issue and didn’t purchase from clothing brands that were involved. Students are also influenced by news videos circulating in social media. One of them stated, “I was very much depressed when I saw Peta video of how Chinese worker were handling rabbits for getting angora wool; this video encouraged me to say no to angora wool”.

4. Conclusion

An ethical consumer is the one who applies additional criteria when buying a product. They want to buy a fair-trade labelled or ethically sourced product. They consider the impact of their private consumption on society and environment. An ethical consumer simply boycotts product that are associated with child labour or other unethical activities. There are various products that come into ethical category such as food, clothing, insurance, energy, soft drink tea and finance. One of the companies that claim to be ethical is The Local Food Company, based in Devon in the UK. The company is engaged in selling of bakery products, dairy, meat & fish, fruits & vegetables and household items. The company has been awarded with many green awards. The company acts as a socially responsible organisation and aims to fulfil needs and wants of different stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and employees. Suppliers are encouraged by The Local Food Company to follow ethical procedures in production. They are given the liberty to sell their food via any number of outlets. They are paid on time and treated respectfully. Ethical policies clearly show that company is against child labour and excessive working. The employees are offered safe and hygienic working environment. For customers to choose wisely, the company has listed information on supplier standards and ethical practices on their website. With the development of Internet technology, customers are getting more informed about the products they use or consume. According to the opinion survey conducted, customers make their purchasing decision on the basis of online reviews, location of store and store environment. They also consider ethical factors when buying a certain product. They boycott a brand when they read something bad about a product or say no to product that are against human rights.

5. References

Beauchamp, T. (2004) Case studies in business, society and ethics, 5th edition, Upper saddle          River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Crane, A. and Matten, D. (2005) Corporate citizenship: toward an extended theoretical conceptualization, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 30, Issue 1, p166- 179.

Ethicalconsumer.org (2014) Product guides, Last accessed 23rd November 2014 at:

http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides.aspx

Harrison, R., Newholm, T. and Shaw, D. (2005) The ethical consumer, 1st edition, Wiltshire: Sage.

Newholm, T. and Shaw, D. (2007) Studying the ethical consumer: a review of research, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, Vol.6, Issue 5, p253-270.

Shaw, Deirdre S. and Ian Clarke, (1998) Culture, Consumption and Choice: Towards a Conceptual Relationship, Journal of Consumer Studies and Home Economics, Vol. 22, Issue 3, p163-168.

The Local Food Company (2014a) Welcome to the Local Food company, Last accessed 23rd November 2014 at:

http://www.thelocalfoodcompany.co.uk/

The Local Food Company (2014b) Ethical Policy, Last accessed 24th November 2014 at:

http://www.thelocalfoodcompany.co.uk/p/ethical-policy

The Local Food Company (2014) Environmental issues, Last accessed 24th November 2014 at:

http://www.thelocalfoodcompany.co.uk/p/about-us/about-environmental-issues

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Tags: Ethical Consumerism, Local Food Company, organisation

Category: Business, Business & Management, Essay & Dissertation Samples

As a sustainable lifestyle blogger, my job is to make conscious consumerism look good. Over the course of four years Instagramming eco-friendly outfits, testing non-toxic nail polish brands, and writing sustainable city guides, I became a proponent of having it all—fashion, fun, travel, beauty—while still being eco-friendly. So when I was invited to speak on a panel in front of the UN Youth Delegation, the expectation was that I’d dispense wisdom to bright young students about how their personal purchasing choices can help save the world.

I stood behind the dais in a secondhand blouse, recycled polyester tights, and a locally made pencil skirt, took a deep breath, and began to speak. “Conscious consumerism is a lie. Small steps taken by thoughtful consumers—to recycle, to eat locally, to buy a blouse made of organic cotton instead of polyester—will not change the world.”

The audience looked back at me, blinking and silent. This was not what they expected.

Where we got it all wrong

According to the lore of conscious consumerism, every purchase you make is a “moral act”—an opportunity to “vote with your dollar” for the world you want to see. We are told that if we don’t like what a company is doing, we should stop buying their products and force them to change. We believe that if we give consumers transparency and information, they’ll make the right choice. But sadly, this is not the way capitalism is set up to work.

Making series of small, ethical purchasing decisions while ignoring the structural incentives for companies’ unsustainable business models won’t change the world as quickly as we want. It just makes us feel better about ourselves. Case in point: A 2012 study compared footprints of “green” consumers who try to make eco-friendly choices to the footprints of regular consumers. And they found no meaningful difference between the two.

 Choosing fashion made from hemp or grilling the waiter about how your fish was caught is no substitute for systematic change. The problem is that even though we want to make the right choices, it’s often too little, too late. For example, friends are always asking me where to take their old clothes so that they are either effectively recycled or make it into the hands of people who need them. My answer? It doesn’t matter where you take them: It will always end up in the exact same overloaded waste stream, which may or may not eventually dump it in Haiti. This isn’t your fault for trying to do the right thing: It’s the fault of the relentless trend cycle of fast fashion, which is flooding the secondhand market with a glut of clothes that Americans don’t want at any price.

There’s also the issue of privilege. The sustainability movement has been charged with being elitist—and it most certainly is. You need a fair amount of disposable income to afford ethical and sustainable consumption options, the leisure time to research the purchasing decisions you make, the luxury to turn up your nose at 95% of what you’re offered, and, arguably, a post-graduate degree in chemistry to understand the true meaning behind ingredient labels.

Choosing fashion made from hemp, grilling the waiter about how your fish was caught, and researching whether your city can recycle bottle caps might make you feel good, reward a few social entrepreneurs, and perhaps protect you from charges of hypocrisy. But it’s no substitute for systematic change.

Environmentalism, brought to you by Multinational, Inc.

I came to this conclusion myself through years of personal research, but other academics have devoted their lives to uncovering the fallacy of conscious consumption. One of those sustainability experts is professor Halina Szejnwald Brown, professor of environmental science and policy at Clark University. She recently authored a report for the United Nations Environmental Programme, “Fostering and Communicating Sustainable Lifestyles: Principles and Emerging Practices.” We met sharing the stage at the UN Youth Delegation, where her presentation backed up my suspicions with research and data.

In short, consumption is the backbone of the American economy—which means individual conscious consumerism is basically bound to fail. “70% of GDP in the US is based on household consumption. So all the systems, the market, the institutions, everything is calibrated to maximize consumption,” Brown told me in a later interview. “The whole marketing industry and advertising invents new needs we didn’t know we had.”

 Consumption is the backbone of the American economy—which means individual conscious consumerism is basically bound to fail. Take plastic water bottles, for example. Plastic, as most of us now know, is made from petroleum that takes hundreds of years—or maybe even a thousand—to biodegrade (scarily, we’re not really sure yet). Shipping bottled water from Fiji to New York City is also an emission-heavy process. And yet, despite the indisputable facts and the consistent campaigning by nonprofits, journalists, and activists to urge consumers to carry reusable water bottles, bottled water consumption has continued to rise—even though it costs up to 2,000 times more than tap water.

So why do we continue to buy 1.7 billion half-liter bottles, or five bottles for every person, every single week? Because market capitalism makes it incredibly difficult to make truly helpful sustainable choices.

The majority of our food and consumer products come wrapped in plastics that aren’t recyclable. Food that is free of pesticides is more expensive. We’re working ever-longer hours, which leaves little time for sitting down to home-cooked meals, much less sewing, mending, and fixing our possessions. Most of those clothes have been designed in the first place to be obsolete after a year or two, just so that you’ll buy more. And only 2% of that clothing is made in the US—and when it is, it’s 20% more expensive. Palm oil, an ingredient that is the world’s leading cause of rainforest destruction and carbon emissions, is in half of our packaged food products, hidden behind dozens of different names. These are just a few examples of how the government and businesses collude to nudge you into blindly destroying the environment on a regular basis, whether you choose to buy organic milk or not.

Then there are the social impediments to making sustainable decisions. “We as humans are highly social beings. We measure our progress in life in relation to others,” Brown says. “The result is that it is very difficult to do something different from what everybody else is doing.”

In order to shun consumer culture, we have to shun social mores. You can dig through dumpsters for perfectly edible food that restaurants and grocery stores have tossed out. You can absolutely return every holiday or birthday gift that doesn’t adhere to your high standards. And you can demand that your friends and family serve only raw, vegan, organic food at social gatherings, and go on hunger strike when they don’t. But to do so would mean becoming an insufferable human being. Society is weighted against us, too.

How to actually make decisions that help the environment

So what’s the answer? I’m not saying that we should all give up, or that we should stop making the small positive decisions we make every day as responsible humans. And if you’re choosing the greener product for health reasons, by all means, do what feels right. But when it comes to combating climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction, what we need to do is take the money, time, and effort we spend making these ultimately inconsequential choices and put it toward something that really matters.

 Take the money, time, and effort you spend making ultimately inconsequential choices and put it toward something that really matters. Beyond making big lifestyle decisions such as choosing to live in a dense urban area with public transportation, cutting red meat out of your diet, and having fewer children (or none at all), there are diminishing returns to the energy you put into avoiding plastic or making sure your old AAs end up in the appropriate receptacle. Globally, we’re projected to spend $9.32 billion in 2017 on green cleaning products. If we had directed even a third of that pot of money (the typical markup on green cleaning products) toward lobbying our governments to ban the toxic chemicals we’re so afraid of, we might have made a lot more progress by now.

“It’s a gesture,” Brown says of fretting over these small decisions. “Well-meaning signals that you care about the environment. But the action itself makes no difference.“

We pat ourselves on the back for making decisions that hush our social guilt instead of placing that same effort in actions that enact real environmental change. But there are small switches in our mentality we can take to make a difference. A few suggestions:

  • Instead of buying expensive organic sheets, donate that money to organizations that are fighting to keep agricultural runoff out of our rivers.
  • Instead of driving to an organic apple orchard to pick your own fruit, use that time to volunteer for an organization that combats food deserts (and skip the fuel emissions, too).
  • Instead of buying a $200 air purifier, donate to politicians who support policies that keep our air and water clean.
  • Instead of signing a petition demanding that Subway remove one obscure chemical from its sandwich bread, call your local representatives to demand they overhaul the approval process for the estimated 80,000 untested chemicals in our products.
  • Instead of taking yourself out to dinner at a farm-to-table restaurant, you could take an interest in the Farm Bill and how it incentivizes unhealthy eating.

On its face, conscious consumerism is a morally righteous, bold movement. But it’s actually taking away our power as citizens. It drains our bank accounts and our political will, diverts our attention away from the true powerbrokers, and focuses our energy instead on petty corporate scandals and fights over the moral superiority of vegans.

So if you really care about the environment, climb on out of your upcycled wooden chair and get yourself to a town hall meeting. If there’s one silver lining to the environmental crisis facing us, it’s that we now understand exactly the kind of work we need to do to save the planet—and it doesn’t involve a credit card.

You can follow Alden on Twitter at @aldenwicker. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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