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green consumers

We really do want clean, green products

If you could choose to buy products from companies supporting fair trade and campaigning to end testing on animals and child trafficking, would you do so? What about companies that reduce their carbon emissions and opt for cleaner, greener technology? Research suggests that most of us would support them in a heartbeat.

Consumers are keen to buy products that are “good and green”. According to Simon Clark from consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM), research shows that consumers prefer to buy from companies trying to reduce their impact on the environment, for one thing.

“Nearly 90% plan to buy more ‘green’ goods in the next 12 months”, Clarke said at a recent sustainability business breakfast hosted by the South African Institute of Chartered Accounts (Saica).

Companies that don’t comply with environmentally friendly practices may find they are driven to make changes for social rather than legal reasons. According to Jako Volschenk, environmental finance lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, when employees and consumers start to expect environmental activism, a strong “push” factor causes companies to re-look policies. He says that when companies go the extra mile, it’s good for them.

“Afrisam, the South African cement producer, was the first cement company in the world to introduce a CO2 rating on its cement products. The company drove its total emissions down by 34% in a time that its production increased by 54%. Not only do low emissions foretell lower energy bills for Afrisam, but the company charges a premium on its product to environmentally conscious consumers. The numerous awards that Afrisam has won are worth more than any marketing campaign it could hope for,” Volschenk said.

While the market for expensive green products is often small, most consumers would opt for greener options if it doesn’t involve paying a price premium or a reduction in comfort or functionality. A company that can get this right will find a strong support base.

Research suggests that today’s graduates are willing to work for environmentally responsible companies, even if they have to accept lower salaries. According to Volschenk, Ipsos Mori conducted a survey in 15 countries and found that 80% of respondents would prefer to work for ethical companies.

“Environmental responsibility is a moral requirement that companies should not be allowed to exist without,” he said. “An American hospital recently decided to source its energy from renewable sources. Its logic was that if their mission was to care for the long-term health of people, it could not justify its contribution to climate change by relying on fossil fuels for its energy needs. The irony is that this hospital now enjoys unprecedented success, confirming that people want to see authentic signs from companies that they care for the greater good. South African companies that seem to understand this are Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay.”

The Mail & Guardian: Read more

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