Consumer demand for green products ‘reaching a tipping point’

Companies that clearly demonstrate the climate credentials of their products could gain a significant competitive and commercial advantage, according to a new report which reveals that two thirds of consumers across the UK, France and Germany would now like to see a recognisable carbon footprint label on goods.

The study, carried out by YouGov for the Carbon Trust, surveyed 5,000 consumers across Europe’s three largest countries in the run-up to this year’s COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco. It found that there are now big opportunities for green-labelled products, services and brands to serve an increasingly environmentally-concerned populace.

More than half (55%) of UK consumers said that they would feel “much more than positive” about a company that has reduced the carbon footprint of its products, with 50% of Germans feeling the same. Moreover, 75% of French consumers claimed that they would feel “more positive”, with 30% saying they would feel “much more than positive”, the report found.

Managing director of certification at the Carbon Trust Darran Messem said: “It is possible that we are seeing a ‘Paris effect’ after the success of securing a global agreement on climate change last year. Businesses that communicate their achievements in reducing emissions can secure a reputational advantage over competitors.”

“It seems we are reaching a tipping point. The demand for sustainable products is there in principle and actively green consumer behaviour is following in its wake. And this is not just happening in Europe. For example, at the Carbon Trust we are actively working with the Chinese Government on a major new scheme to enable greener purchasing behaviour, with a pilot taking place in Guangdong, which is an economic powerhouse of a province with a population of over 100 million.”

‘Value action-gap’

The survey highlighted a “value-action gap” in which many consumers suggest that carbon footprint labelling is a good idea, but just over half of those surveyed admit they do not generally consider a products carbon footprint when purchasing. This is countered by a group of what the Trust refers to as “green consumers”, where one in five of those surveyed said they consider climate change in the purchasing of products and 37% claim it is important for them to know that the businesses they buy from are taking action against climate change.

With the Carbon Trust having introduced carbon labelling in 2007, the organisation actually reported an overall reduction in the number of products carrying carbon labels, with companies such as Tesco having opted out of the labelling scheme after its introduction. This decline was due in part to levels of consumer concern waning through the failings of the Copenhagen climate summit to establish a universal labelling methods back in 2009, according to the Trust.

Messem, however, is optimistic of this new data. He added: “We now have a binding global deal on climate change and consumer attitudes are shifting, which will create opportunities for companies with more sustainable products.

“Businesses need to be aware of the risks and opportunities that this will create. Environmental impact is increasingly a criteria for competition, alongside price and quality. Stronger regulation and changing consumer demand is a powerful combination, businesses that take early action and build sustainability into their brand will reap the rewards.”

Last year, the Carbon Trust unveiled a new water footprinting certification where businesses with a proactive approach to reducing water consumption were urged to sign up to the Water Footprint label. The scheme considers the entire lifecycle water use of companies, awarding the best-performing with Carbon Trust’s internationally-recognised certification.

Alex Baldwin

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