THE value of UK ethical consumerism last year exceeded the sales of 'over-the-counter' beer and cigarettes, according to the Co-operative Bank's latest annual Ethical Consumerism Report.
The Report, which acts as a barometer of ethical spending in the UK, shows that in 2005 UK ethical consumerism was worth £ 29.3 billion, for the first time overtaking the retail market for tobacco and alcohol which stood at £ 28.0 billion.
However, the Co-operative Bank was quick to guard against complacency and cautioned against interpreting this growth as a sign that the markets were capable of delivering sustainable solutions without intervention.
The Report, which is published in conjunction with the Future Foundation, shows that ethical consumerism in 2005 was up 11 per cent on the previous year. Over the same period, UK household expenditure increased by only 1.4 per cent.
Spending on ethical food which includes organic products, Fairtrade goods and free-range eggs was up 18 per cent from £ 4.6 billion to £ 5.4 billion. Green home expenditure, which incorporates energy-efficient electrical appliances, green mortgage repayments, small renewables (such as micro-wind turbines) and green energy was up from £ 3.8 billion to £ 4.1 billion.
Eco-travel and transport costs, which includes environmentally friendly transport, responsible tour operators, public transport and sales of green cars, was up from £ 1.7 billion to £ 1.8 billion.
Spending on personal products, such as humane cosmetics and eco-fashion, was up 5 per cent to £ 1.3 billion. Monies in ethical finance, which includes ethical banking and investments, stood at £ 11.6 billion, up from £ 10.6 billion last year.
Executive Director of Business Management, Craig Shannon, said: "The fact that the value of ethical consumerism is now higher than the retail figures for cigarettes and beers is a milestone.
"However, total ethical spending is spread over a wide range of products and services, and in very few markets has it become the market norm. Overall, spend on ethical foods still only accounts for 5% of the typical shopping basket.
"Where the ethical or eco-choice has become the market leader, for example in sales of A-rated energy fridges (which account for some 60 per cent of the market), this has been underpinned by an EU labelling scheme, inefficient products being removed from sale and the support of well targeted subsidies.
"If, as many scientists are saying, we have ten years to make a dent in climate change, it is this type of radical overhaul of the choices made available to people that is going to deliver the rapid market changes required.
"The efforts of far-sighted, highly motivated consumers need to be leveraged and supported with business innovation and government intervention."