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Consumption - The Facts

DYLAN GARCIA / Still Pictures / www.stillpictures.com

In the past 100 years, world consumption has grown at a rate unprecedented in human history

The world’s consumers

Luxury vs necessity^2^

The Western world spends more on luxury products than it would cost to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The graph contrasts annual expenditure on consumer goods with the additional annual investment needed to achieve social goals.

Planet earth: dying of consumption

The number of planets needed to sustain the world at different countries’ levels of consumption:^4^

According to the New Economics Foundation, total consumption levels had already exceeded the planet’s ecological capacity by the late 1970s.^4^

The folly of food miles

Food transportation across the globe is making a significant contribution to climate change.

‘Ethical’ food still a niche market

Organic, fair trade and local food sales, whilst growing fast, are still tiny in comparison to the grocery market as a whole.^7^

Ethical consumerism is growing in the North

Ethical consumers

Polls and surveys show that increasing numbers of Northern consumers want their food, clothing, cosmetics, energy, travel and finance to have less of a negative impact on people and the planet, and want companies to behave more responsibly. ^8,9^

Fair trade business is booming^10^

Cleaner cash: ethical finance

Country Total funds under management Total invested according to some form of SRI criteria SRI funds
as a % of total


$26,500 billion

$2,290.00 billion



$4,000 billion

$103.60 billion



$1,360 billion

$47.79 billion



$458 billion

$5.23 billion


Think global, eat local

The 7 most boycotted companies in 2005 were:^8^

Planet organic

  1. UNDP _Human Development Report 1998_,
  2. Worldwatch Institute, ‘State of the World 2004: The Consumer Society’,
  3. Worldwatch Institute, ‘State of the World 2006: The Challenge of Global Sustainability’.
  4. New Economics Foundation and The Open University, _The UK Interdependence Report, 2006_,
  5. JN Pretty, ‘Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly basket’, _Food Policy 30_, Science Direct, 2005,
  6. Katy Mamen, Steve Gorelick, Helena Norberg-Hodge, and Diana Deumling, ‘Ripe for Change: Rethinking California’s Food Economy’ International Society for Ecology and Culture, 2004,
  7. Figures from: IGD, ‘UK grocery factsheet’, 2006, www.igd.com; Euromonitor International, ‘Grocery stores, food retailers and supermarkets in the USA’, 2005, ; Statistics Canada, ‘Retail Trade 2005’,
  8. 2005 study of 15,500 consumers in 17 countries: US, UK, India, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, China, Poland, Denmark, Spain, Malaysia, Russia, by GMI poll,
  9. Co-operative Bank, ‘2005 Ethical Consumerism Report’,
  10. Figures from: Fair Trade Advocacy Office, Brussels, ‘Fair Trade in Europe 2005’, ; Fairtrade Foundation, ; Fairtrade Labelling Organization, ‘FLO News Bulletin July 2006’,
  11. Soil Association (UK), ‘Organic Market Report 2006’,
  12. Organic Trade Association (US), ‘2006 Manufacturer Survey’,
  13. Good Environmental Choice - Australia, ‘2004 - the State of Green Procurement in Australia’,
  14. Soil Association, Press Release on ‘Supermarket organic “box schemes”’, 2005,
  15. USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, ‘Farmers Market Facts’ ,
  16. National Farmers’ Retail & Markets Association, ‘Farmers’ markets in the UK – Nine years and counting’, June 2006,
  17. Australian Farmers’ Markets Association,
  18. Sources for figures: ; ; ; ; ;
  19. Ed Mayo in his introduction to _The Ethical Consumer_, 2005, by Rob Harrison, Terry Newholm, and Deirdre Shaw, Sage Publications Ltd

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