What is the difference between ethical, eco-conscious and sustainable?
In recent years, shifts in consumer buying habits have driven monumental changes across the food and drink industry.
In its Ethical Consumer Markets Report, Ethical Consumer found that ethical consumer spending is rapidly growing in the UK. In fact, ethical expenditure over the last decade has more than doubled.
In 2019, ethical spending rose by 13% from the previous year, resulting in the market worth rising to £98bn.
More and more, three key factors are driving our purchasing decisions – how ethical, eco-conscious and sustainable the item is.
But, what are the differences between these three terms? What makes a product ethical, eco-conscious or sustainable? And, can it be all three of these at once?
Below, we’ll be breaking each factor down into more detail, providing definitions, showing you what to look for and outlining the benefits that it brings.
This way, you’ll be more equipped than ever to make conscientious shopping choices.
How far we’ve come
Remember what it was like to shop for veggie food ten years ago?
It was an almost impossible task – if you didn’t like courgette, you were pretty stuck for options!
Thankfully, the market has completely transformed in recent years. Now, consumers who want to make more conscientious choices have plenty to choose from.
The Vegan trademark was used for the first time back in 1990. Now, according to The Vegan Society, more than 56,000 products created by 2,500 companies all over the world are vegan.
As you can see, ethical food shopping is now more achievable than ever. Long gone are the days where consumers would have to hunt for a sustainable option!
The buying power of consumers, and the global goal of adopting better shopping habits, have encouraged companies across the world to introduce new products to their range.
Now, businesses are being pushed to display accountability, transparency and positive morals. Increasingly, customers are thinking more about who they choose to support.
The 2020 report from Research Insights revealed that 40% of us are purpose-driven consumers. According to the researchers, this means that:
“[They] select brands based on how well they align with their personal values and who are willing to “walk the talk” when it comes to sustainability, changing their behaviour, and even paying more for brands that get it right.”
In a world where around 6 in 10 consumers will change their shopping habits to reduce their environmental impact, “As consumers increasingly embrace social causes, they seek products and brands that align with their values.”
These primary values are ethics, eco-consciousness and sustainability. We use these phrases an awful lot, particularly with regards to their food. But, how well do we know what they mean? Let’s delve into these terms a little deeper…
For a product to be classed as ethical, it needs to have high welfare standards.
To achieve this, the company will need to have prioritised the welfare of those involved in its production. In addition, if it is not a plant-based product, the company will need to ensure that any animals are treated with care and respect.
Vegan and vegetarian products are renowned for being ethical because they limit animal involvement in their manufacturing and limit animal suffering across the board.
Fairtrade food is the flagship indication of ethical produce.
The Fairtrade movement is built on four pillars of ethical production:
– Social Development
– Economic Development
– Environmental development
– Prohibition of forced labour and child labour
In terms of the wage that it pays to farmers, the Fairtrade organisation financially supports its producers in two key ways:
The Fairtrade Minimum Price – a fair and sustainable wage for producers.
The Fairtrade Premium – an additional sum that can be used to improve the quality of life of the producers and their local community.
Through these areas of focus and the fair wage that it provides to its workers, looking for products with the Fairtrade label is a great way to shop ethically.
The organic label is another great hallmark of ethical produce. Although it is primarily associated with eco-consciousness and sustainability, organic produce must adhere to high ethical standards. For instance, according to Soil Association, organic farming has higher animal welfare standards than any other international farming system. Organic produce is free-range, animals do not have to receive routine antibiotic and worm treatments, and mutilations are banned.
Purchasing ethical products is a fantastic way to support organisations that share the same morals and values as you do. What’s more, by financially supporting this approach, you can actively encourage other companies to adopt these methods, too.
Eco-consciousness is a term that denotes how environmentally friendly the product is.
This can encompass several different factors, including the volume of single-use plastics, the production methods used, or the carbon footprint of the production company, for example.
We’ve already mentioned the organic label, but it would be crazy not to include it in this section, too!
Organic production methods prioritise eco-consciousness. To attain the certification, producers need to use innovative techniques that limit the impact on the planet as much as possible.
These include supporting biodiversity, protecting natural wildlife, limiting its carbon footprint and not using artificial or harmful chemicals during production.
To achieve these standards, producers have to use natural methods to preserve soil quality and work to reduce their carbon emissions as much as possible.
Banning toxic chemicals is another fundamental eco-conscious principle. Chemicals in the food industry are a common cause of eutrophication, which rapidly destroys the biodiversity of impacted bodies of water.
By preventing the use of these chemicals, organic production is remarkably eco-conscious.
As with any industry, sustainability is all about achieving a production method that can remain as it is into the future.
As such, it limits its usage of unsustainable or finite resources, has a low carbon footprint, and does not produce harmful toxins or pollutants.
Plastic packaging is a huge problem, particularly within the food industry. In recent years, shocking statistics have been published, revealing the vast issues our current practices are causing.
In fact, according to Plastic Oceans, packaging accounts for more than 40% of total global plastic usage. And it is estimated that over 10 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every single year.
So, there is a massive push for companies to rethink the way that they use plastic.
At Coliman Allfresch, we are committed to using biodegradable and compostable packaging across our retail operations. This comes as a core part of our sustainability efforts.
All of our retail packaging will biodegrade within three months at an industrial composting facility. Or, you can simply leave it in a standard household compost, and it will biodegrade within just six months!
All that it leaves behind is carbon dioxide, water, and compost, which can provide nutrients to your plants.
Can ethical, eco-conscious and sustainable interlink?
Although people often mistakenly use these terms interchangeably, it is easily done. These three factors are all heavily linked, and producers often work to attain all the standards for their products.
For instance, a product can be both Fairtrade and organic, which would tick all of these boxes at once.
Vegan and vegetarian products that work to minimise their single plastic usage are also ethical, eco-conscious and sustainable all at once.
At Coliman Allfresch, we are committed to helping consumers shop in ways that align with their values.
We are dedicated to ethical socio conscious production, which prioritises the wellbeing of our producers. Alongside this, our eco-conscious and sustainable efforts achievements include the use of solar panels, carbon-reduction initiatives and the introduction of our innovative biodegradable packaging,
After all, it’s all part of our ongoing goal to nourish the world.
To find out more about our ethical supply of Fairtrade and organic produce, get in touch with our team today.