What is conscious consumerism?

With more people using their purchasing power for the positive, learn about conscious consumerism and how your start-up can appeal to these customers

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Do you opt for organic items where possible? Or maybe you only use cruelty-free toiletries? Making decisions like these about what you’re going to buy and which type of companies you’re going to support with your money and purchases is known as conscious consumerism.

We’re going to provide more information about this type of consumption and how your start-up can align itself with these values and standards.

In this article, we’ll cover:

1. What is conscious consumerism?

Essentially, conscious consumerism focuses on making positive decisions throughout the buying process, with the intention of helping to balance some of the negative impacts that consumerism has on the planet. For example, eating Fairtrade chocolate, wearing pre-worn clothing or using natural toiletries.

Responsible consumerism promotes sustainable farming and other eco-friendly ways of making products, as well as creating only the amount that’s needed. Other factors such as pay equality and humane working practices also drive this type of consumption.

The overall aim is to use customers’ purchasing power to consider the impact (on the environment or in society, for example) of what people buy, as well as why and how they make purchases.

Conscious consumption glossary

When discussing responsible consumerism, there are a few key terms and phrases you’re likely to come across – here we define some of the main ones.

Buycott – This word is ‘buy’ and ‘boycott’ together, referring to customers that refuse to buy from certain companies due to their negative practices.

Positive purchasing – This phrase refers to how people try to create positive impact during the purchasing process, such as by supporting ethical businesses with their buying choices.

Purpose – Conscious consumption focuses on the purpose behind purchasing, whether that’s using social purpose to market to customers or supporting businesses that are modelled on achieving a purpose in addition to making money.

2. Who are conscious consumers?

According to the Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility report published in 2015, three out of four Millenials were willing to pay more for sustainable products.

It also found that of those surveyed, 51% of Boomers (aged 50-64) were also inclined to pay higher prices for sustainable products too.

While consumers are being more aware of their power and looking more closely at the businesses they buy from, there are some key characteristics of conscious consumers.

Conscious consumers want to use their individual actions to help create global impact, and so consuming is seen as a form of voting by using purchases to support businesses that promote the values these consumers see as important.

It’s worth noting that this type of spending requires some level of privilege, as well as the ability to make these decisions, which isn’t available to everyone.

Also, these type of customers are generally younger customers, with millennial shoppers often falling into this category. The Pew Research Center has defined this generation as those born between 1981 and 1996.

For more insight into customer behaviour and ethical shopping, take a look at our ethical consumers page.

3. Conscious consumerism businesses

Now that you know what conscious consumerism is, we’ll look at how to implement different strategies to ensure that you promote this type of consumption. Here are some ideas to get you started, although these will vary depending on the type of business you run.

Customer-facingBehind the scenes
  • Donate a percentage of every purchase to charity
  • Use eco-friendly coffee cups, cutlery, plates; recycled carrier bags
  • Offer some level of repairs or replacements for products
  • Create high quality items in limited amounts
  • Use recyclable and/or reusable materials
  • Connect to power from green energy suppliers
  • Use ethical banks
  • Promote sustainable production processes throughout the cycle
  • Volunteer with charities

Another way of incorporating conscious consumerism into your business (especially if you’ve already started) is to participate in a national or international awareness day. This allows you to try out sustainable practices and work out how to include them in your day-to-day business operations. For example, the UN’s World Environment Day takes place on the 5th June each year.

Once you’ve decided on what level and type of responsible consumerism you want your business to promote, it’s useful to know which accreditations or organisations you should be recognised by to ensure your customers know your business is serious about sustainability.

Here’s an overview of some of the key organisations that offer certification in the UK and internationally. You can contact the relevant organisations to find out how to get your products or services certified, as well as which criteria it’ll need to meet.

  • Cruelty Free International – the Leaping Bunny logo for products that aren’t tested on animals
  • Fairtrade Foundation – the logo for products that have been sourced and traded sustainably
  • Soil Association – offers certification for products to carry the organic label
  • Vegetarian Society – offers a trademark approved logo that meets certain criteria to be labelled as vegetarian
  • Vegan Society – similar to the above; a trademark approved logo that ensures products or goods meet vegan requirements

Read our what is an ethical business page for more ideas and information about running this type of start-up.

4. Business case study

James Omisakin, CTO and Abbie Morris, CEO, Compare Ethics

How did you start your start-up?

The story

“As a couple living in London we always have options when it comes to choosing sassy brands.

“But when we went looking for the perfect trousers (because James kept getting holes in his jeans), we found many brands had little information about the social, animal or environmental impacts of their production process.

“This lead to a trawl all over the internet and we found ethical brands who care. This was great, but these brands weren’t easy to find and there was no one place to compare and choose what was best for us at the right price.

“Frustrated with this fragmented and long way of finding ethical brands, we decided to create a one stop shop: where shoppers who care about fair wages, treatment of animals and the environment can compare and choose brands they trust and love. At the same time, ethical brands out there can come to one place to engage with the shoppers they’re looking for.

The process

“First, we researched the market and looked at macro-trends about millennials and their interest in sustainable products.

“We quickly found that there’s a value action gap. In other words, millennials say they want to shop sustainably but don’t purchase those products in practice.

“Armed with research and motivated to solve this issue, we developed a questionnaire and surveyed over 300 people – asking about their shopping interests, habits and tested the ethical fashion comparison website idea.

“Alongside this, we created a website with an agency to start building our profile and started blogging on key issues.

“With positive feedback from our surveys, we hired a developer to produce a Minimal Viable Product comparison website and tested it with our friends and family (many of whom were actively vegan and interested in these types of products).

“With both good and bad feedback, we iterated the website and launched our Beta version at a pop-up in August.

“Fast forward to today, we are Europe’s first ethical fashion comparison website and work with over 25 brands and thousands of consumers visit the website each month.

“We’re forever learning and it has been a very up and down process. But totally worth it when things fall into place.

What are your aims for your business?

“Our mission is to accelerate ethical consumer choices through innovation. Using technology, we celebrate ethical brands and make it easy for shoppers to make ethical choices.

“The first step on this journey is our ethical comparison website. We would love to see the majority of consumers using this safe space to protest with their purchases and buy from brands who share their social, environmental and animal protection values.

“The next step is to encourage and support ethical fashion best practice. We achieve this through our partnership with brands and iterating our in-house ranking methodology.

“Every product is carefully vetted and listed on the methodology. The most ethical products are then listed at the top of the product pages. We see this methodology as a gateway to inform consumers about best practice.

“More broadly, we aim to work with consumers and show the power they have to create real change simply from buying from brands who demand better for the world.

“We’ll also be seeking to work with the wider industry to realise the regulation and responsible business changes we need to pave a way to sustainable consumption.”

– James Omisakin and Abbie Morris, Compare Ethics


At this point, you’ve learned more about what conscious consumerism is and who conscious customers are.

Plus, we’ve explored the different ways of promoting responsible consumerism in your start-up, as well as what accreditations and which organisations to work with to ensure your small business caters to this type of consumerism.

Also, we’ve provided a business case study to offer real-life insight into starting a business for a conscious consumer target market.

Written by:
Scarlett writes for the energy and HR sections of the site, as well as managing the Just Started profiles. Scarlett is passionate about championing equality and sustainability in business.
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