UK spend on ethical products shoots past £100bn for first time

Woman filling sustainable shopping container
Shoppers have embraced vegetarian and plant-based food, driving a 34% sales increase to almost £1.5bn.
// Annual spend on ethical products in the UK soared past £100bn for the first time
// Consumer lifestyle changes were prompted by the pandemic and the climate crisis

The UK’s annual spend on ethical products and investments has surpassed £100 billion for the first time after it surged by almost a quarter (23.7%) in just one year, according to the Co-op’s Ethical Consumerism Report.

The ‘green pound’ reached record levels of £122bn at the end of 2020, as consumer lifestyle changes linked to Covid and the climate crisis fuelled demand for second-hand clothes and furniture, plant-based food and other sustainable choices.

This figure has more than doubled in the past decade, when the green pound was worth £51bn to the UK economy.

The amount spent on ethical products and services rose to £61bn, nearly 30% more than in 2019. The Guardian puts that as £2,189 per household, a £489 increase on the previous year and more than doubling the 2010 figure (£1,028).

Ethical concerns have been reflected in dietary changes, as consumers continue to embrace vegetarian and plant-based food and drinks, driving a 34% sales increase to almost £1.5bn.

Read more: Gen Z turns its back on fast fashion to focus on sustainable options

The resale sector saw significant growth too, reflecting both financial and environmental concerns. The market for second-hand clothing grew by almost a quarter, reaching £864m, while spending on pre-loved furniture was up by more than £100m, at £837m.

Sales of ethical cosmetics also increased, rising by 11% to almost £1bn, boosted by a shift towards online shopping and skincare products during the pandemic.

At the same time, the report found that more shoppers are actively boycotting brand boycotts on ethical, social or environmental grounds. The affected businesses suffered a loss of almost £4bn, up 18% (£600m) on the previous year.

“Our Ethical Consumerism Report is a barometer on consumer behaviour and shoppers are turning up the heat to boycott businesses which fail to act on ethical or social concerns,” warned Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-op Group.

“The report is a warning to brands that they must do business a better way for workers, communities and the planet,” he added, pointing out that it “offers clear evidence to policy-makers that they can positively influence change”.

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