New book: The Myth of the Ethical Consumer

This new book, out in a couple of weeks looks useful. I haven’t read it yet but I like the title and the supporting blurb from the publisher, Cambridge, which says:

“Do consumers really care where products come from and how they are made? Is there such a thing as an ‘ethical consumer’? Corporations and policy makers are bombarded with international surveys showing that most consumers want ethical products. Yet when companies offer such products they are often met with indifference and limited uptake. It seems that survey radicals turn into economic conservatives at the checkout.

The Myth of the Ethical Consumer reveals the social aspects of consumption and why the search for the ‘ethical consumer’ is futile. Consumers are shown to be much more deliberative and sophisticated in how they do or do not incorporate social factors into their decision making.”

If the book lives up to its own hype, it should be essential reading.

I have argued for a decade that relying on the ethical consumer is a waste of time for a mainstream product. Consumers, as Timberland, Patagonia, Boots and M&S will tell you, simply expect you to do it for them, and then tell them about it in a way they can either respond to, or find easily, in understandable and humble language, on a website or forum.

We’ll see when we get a review copy just how much insight it offers. The authors are a mix of UK and Australian marketing academics, which bodes well.


  1. I agree that many brands are chasing an ethical consumer they think exists but doesn't. However there are some ethical consumers and consumers who act, or buy ethically. Social norming is a key factor. It's complex and too often people try to simplify it. In my book ETHICAL MARKETING & THE NEW CONSUMER we look pragmatically at how consumer trends are changing and how to sell to them. Chris Arnold.

  2. I think there are many people who either buy ethically as much as they can or those that want to but find it too difficult due to green washing or simply dont know what kinds of products to buy due to lack of knowledge. Thus it becomes an issue of what products they can trust as being truly "green".

    I did an ecological renovation on my apartment several months ago and had huge problems sourcing appropriate products. Tags such as green, ecological, sustainable etc., turned out to be in a lot of cases after asking questions as to what was in their products, just clever marketing.

    Jane Cull
    The Circularity of Life: An Essential Shift for Sustainability

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