Green consumerism can be described as either a highly democratic strategy to save the planet or exploitative marketing, depending on who you are talking to. As a strategy to save the planet it confronts the mass of consumers in industrialised countries and in effect says: "its up to you". Consumer demand has got us into the current mess, now it has to get us out again. Consumers must inform themselves about major environmental problems and then, by being cross-informed through product labelling, they should only select environmentally benign products -- and green life-styles to match their new consumption tastes.
The idea is that when awareness of environmental problems penetrates deeply enough into the community consciousness the purchasing power of the mass market will force all manufacturers to green both their products and their manufacturing processes -- on pain of being rejected in the market-place by green-leaning consumers. If all goes according to plan only those companies which adapt to the demand for greenness will survive. This approach to environmentalism is seen as being consistent with our existing mainstream culture. It allows the majority of people participation in the decision-making process by way of voting with their credit cards.
The Roots of Green Consumerism
Green buyers, of course, have been around for a long time, but until recently they were only a discriminating few. The birth of the modern green consumer movement is usually dated at around the time the newly-released Brundtland Report was generating heightened awareness of the global ecological crisis. In 1987 a British company called The Body Shop won the UK "Company of the Year" Business Enterprise Awards. The Body Shop was then "riding high on a wave of green consumerism" as an outlet for "cruelty-free, minimally packaged, natural ingredient soaps". It was expanding at the rate of 20 new outlets a year and its extraordinary success helped to...