Selling to eco-conscious customers? They may not be who you think they are.

It's undeniable that there has been a massive shift in the collective mindset of consumers when it comes to the choices they make when consuming. It's seen to the rise of ethical consumerism lead by a new generation of Millennials and social movements with LGBT rights, animal rights and feminism drawing more of the media's attention than ever before. It's not a completely universal transformation yet, but it's on a very strong path. The Fairtrade Foundation reports that 25% of consumers are actively choosing to buy Fairtrade products whilst a study by consumer-goods giant Unilever found 54% want to make more sustainable purchases.

As an answer to the increasing demand for sustainable products from consumers, the market has seen brands with a 'green' or ethical focus launching ever more regularly. This trend is particularly evident in the world of fashion with brands from H&M to Adidas touting their green credentials. H&M have launched a sportswear range made from sustainable materials and provide recycling services for old garments; whilst Adidas has released shoes that are made from plastic reclaimed from the ocean.

It's been widely accepted that a lot of the rhetoric around ethical consumerism is about how it has been driven by young, Millennial consumers, and to an extent, the data seems to back that up. According to consumer data company Conscious Consumers, Generation Z is the most environmentally and socially 'aware' consumer market yet. But are they the largest consumers of ethically produced goods?

It's a difficult question to answer, Wasserman took a look at this by taking data from Global Web Index to take a look at the behaviours of the ethical British consumer – these are traits that can be extrapolated out to the Australian market. To define an ethical consumer – known as an 'Ethical Altruist', they looked at people who agreed with the following three statements:

• I think it's very important to contribute to the community I live in
• I think we should all strive for equality
• I would pay more for sustainable/eco-friendly products

This combination of statements is used as an identifier for not just advocacy of issues surrounding sustainability, but also for broader social altruism.
Notably, Ethical Altruists only make up 25% of the UK's 16-64-year-olds. Considering the fixation that brands have with this audience, one would imagine it to be larger.

Less surprisingly, the majority of Ethical Altruists – 52% are under the age of 35. Consumers over the age of 35 tend to become increasingly less altruistic (whether this is due to changing cultural values over time or circumstancial changes that occur around the age of 35 is unclear) and overall, women are far more likely than men to be Ethical Altruists – across all age groups – especially amongst Gen Z.

The singular exception to this is for the 31-35 age group, which also happens to be the largest group of Ethical Altruists after 21-25-year-olds.

Perhaps the most revealing trait of all though is that the Ethical Altruists in this age group contains the greatest proportion of people whose earnings are in the top 25% income bracket compared to all other groups. Further, of all 31-35-year-olds in the UK whose earnings are in the top 10%, 56% are categorised as Ethical Altruists.

What insights can be drawn from these findings? Well, notably for brands is that people aged 31-35 should be getting a lot more love from brands with an ethical focus, especially compounded with their notable purchasing power.

So, whilst consumers, in general, are moving towards having more ethically conscious purchasing habits, many presently can't afford to opt for the regularly more expensive ethical option. So it seems that for now, ethical altruism is an indulgence that not everyone can afford.

Source: Tom Lovegrove, WARC, 2018.