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Opinion: Forward-looking Businesses Must Embrace Ethical Consumerism

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By Njeri Kagwe

There is no doubt that any business’s ethics and purpose are becoming increasingly important to consumers – young and old. That is why in recent years phrases such as ‘people and the planet above profits’ have become prominent.

Now more than ever, consumers are using their consumption choices to express their underlying moral values. Ethical consumerism is not a movement any company can afford to ignore if they have future aspirations.

Ethical consumerism is the idea that one’s consumption has an impact on the world, so one wants that impact to align with their values. Such consumers want to understand the footprint of the products or services they consume – how they were made, who was involved, how they got to them, and how the product will be disposed of.

Today’s consumer is more tuned to what is happening around them and wants to help address the pressing human issues of the day without contributing further to their spread. For example, the average millennial grew up worrying about climate change and we are now well past the question of whether it is happening. Because of this, such a consumer wants to know what role the business they are buying from is playing in environmental sustainability.

A survey by IBM’s Institute for Business Value showed that traceability was important to 71% of respondents worldwide and they were willing to pay a premium for a brand that provided it. This means that more consumers care about the production chain from the origin of raw materials to the finished product.  Additionally, 57% of consumers were willing to change their shopping habits to help minimize social or environmental damage.

Socially conscious Gen-Z and millennials are the main drivers of the shift to ethical consumption. In making their buying choices, they strongly believe that they should not settle on anything less than a brand that has integrity, respects the planet that they live in, and treats its people fairly. Another recent survey by management consultants McKinsey and Company in South Africa found the influence of Gen Z and Millennials is rapidly expanding. For instance, 70% of Gen Z consumers say they actively try to support companies they consider ethical, and 65% try to learn the origins of anything they buy: where it was made, what it is made from, how it is made, and by whom.

Kenya’s Gen-Z and millennial consumers are not far off. As a growing number of Kenyan consumers increasingly show concern about how ethically and sustainably the goods they purchase and consume are made, those companies that do not align accordingly run the risk of losing their market share.

Ethical consumerism is no longer a wave. It is here to stay and every organization that cares about its future should join in. Good ethics have turned into big business as some have dived in so deep that their social causes have become part of their brand identity. Consumers are becoming motivated by organizations that are not afraid to amplify their social voices and help them live their values. It is a win for everybody.

The rise of social media has greatly enabled the consumer to find a voice because their relationship with businesses has been democratized. For example, we often witness social media outrages that cause consumers to boycott brands because they behaved in a way that went against the consumers’ values and beliefs. In addition, the customer has access to infinite information about a company’s values, mission, and activities at their fingertips. This ought to be a powerful wake-up call for all brands to become purpose-led organizations.

Njeri Kagwe is the Lead Communications Consultant at Communicis Ltd. email: [email protected] 

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