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Ethical consumerism: the trend that helps more than just your business

Ethical consumerism: the trend that helps more than just your business

One day, French entrepreneur Nicholas Chabanne did some maths. He worked out that if consumers paid a mere €4 extra on milk each year, it would strike a fairer deal for French dairy farmers than big supermarkets were offering.

That’s how food brand C’est qui le patron?! (Who’s the boss?) was born, and now it’s the fourth biggest milk brand in France. One in five French adults buy the product despite it being pricier than cut-price supermarket varieties. The stats reflect the behaviour of a particular demographic: the ethical consumer.

“A whole lot of consumers now want to behave more responsibly,” Chabanne told the Guardian. “They would prefer, if possible, to buy healthy, quality food, produced ethically, transparently and with respect for animal welfare and the environment by people who get a fair price for it. And they’re willing to pay a bit more for that.”

The story of C’est qui le patron?! reflects a growing trend in consumer spending. Consumer research also shows that 66%  of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods that are manufactured with the environment in mind. UK ethical spending grew more than ever in 2019, with a total market worth £14 billion. The age of ethical consumption is here.

In this post, we’ll help you get the gist of ethical consumerism, and explore some easy ways you can implement more ethical, sustainable practices into your business.

Let’s dive in!

What is ethical consumerism?

In our information-heavy age, we’re increasingly aware of how our actions affect the wider world. It’s hard for us to ignore the damaging effects of our consumption habits—whether it be deforestation, exploitation or animal cruelty. This has spurred a surge in commitment to ethical consumption among both consumers and businesses.

Whether or not an ethical consumer buys your product depends on factors such as what it’s made from, who made it, where, how and whether they were paid fairly for doing so. 

Say you run a clothing store. Socially conscious customers, aware of the fashion industries links with the exploitation and inhumane living conditions of over 3 million people in India alone, will be more willing to shop with you if you can show that your products were produced in fair and humane working conditions.

What are ethical trends?

Ethical trends in business are spurred by a collective desire to make the world a better place. They’re often associated with the consumption of ethical goods. Here are four ethical trends we can expect to see more businesses adopt:

  • Alternatives to single-use plastics
  • Ethical veganism
  • Eco-friendly supply chain practices
  • Sustainable order fulfilment

1. Alternatives to single-use plastics

As the issue of ocean plastic attracts more and more public attention, restaurants and cafes everywhere have stopped using plastic straws to align with ethical consumers, especially enviro-conscious ones. Starbucks pledged to start phasing out plastic straws in 2018, and have since announced their plan to use specially designed lids made from recycled plastic.

The popularity of bamboo toothbrushes and the success of start-ups selling alternatives to cling film made from beeswax also signals a shift away from single-use plastic in a push to protect the environment.


2. Ethical veganism

Ethical food and veganism is also gaining more attention than ever before. In 2019, UK bakery chain Greggs announced the launch of its controversial vegan sausage roll, which prompted a surge in sales. The UK court even ruled ethical veganism a ‘philosophical belief’ when a vegan was supposedly fired from his job for it.

3. Eco-friendly supply chain practices

The demand for ethical goods incentivises companies to improve their supply chain. A case in point would be Dutch chocolate producer Tony’s Chocolonely, who not only make a delicious product but also pride themselves on a transparent and ethical supply chain.

They carefully monitor each step in their supply chain to protect their suppliers against exploitation. Their goal going forward would be a 100% slave-free and ethically sourced supply chain, and they’d like to influence similar companies to do the same.

4. Sustainable order fulfilment

In response to the rising awareness of the negative environmental impact of its speedy delivery, Amazon had pledged to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2030 and be completely carbon neutral by 2040.

Other companies, like UPS, are following suit with a similar initiative. Their goal is to use 25% renewable energy by investing heavily in vehicles that use alternative fuels and other technologies that help reduce carbon emissions.  

What does the ethical consumer mean for businesses?

Consumers willing to pay more for sustainable products grew by 200% between 2011 and 2015. This trend triggered huge growth for sustainable products going forward. A 2018 report by Nielson showed that sales for sustainable products now grow twice as fast as other products in their respective categories, despite a smaller market share.

In that same year, Unilever brands with sustainability credentials grew 69% faster than those without and made up 75% of the company’s overall growth.

The majority of consumers are willing to put their money where their mouth is and combat pressing environmental issues through what they choose to purchase. The growing economic opportunity of commodity activism (when companies align themselves with a stance on a political or social issue as a means of winning consumers who share that point of view)  also presents an opportunity for businesses.

Gen Z and Millennials, in particular, are leading the charge in ethical consumption. 62% of Gen Z prefer to shop with sustainable brands, and 73% of Millennials will pay more for sustainable goods. Switching to a more sustainable business model is good for the environment; letting your customers know about your sustainable model is good for your business. 

Those who commit to and communicate their enviro-conscious initiatives can position themselves as agents of change, winning over the ethical consumer in the process.

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5 ways you can be more sustainable with technology

One way to align business more closely with ethical consumerism is starting from the inside. How can you alter day to day operations to make your business more sustainable? With a modern tech ecosystem it’s not actually that hard!

Your Lightspeed point of sale system can help you tackle sustainability concerns in two primary areas: eco-friendly material usage and inventory waste. By incorporating these practices into your business, you can save money and reassure customers that they’re making an ethical, eco-concious choice when they shop with you.

1. Go for paperless receipts

When it comes to environmental impact, paper receipts are killer. 93% of paper receipts were found to contain BPA or BPS in a 2018 study⁠—two chemicals that you probably don’t want around in high concentrations. And even receipts not coated in BPA or BPS are a problem; 21 billion gallons of water and 10 million trees are used to make paper receipts every year in the United States alone, creating 686 million pounds of waste.

Encouraging an alternative to paper receipts isn’t just good for the environment⁠—it’s more convenient for your customers, too. If they ever need to consult their receipt to communicate with your or for their own bookkeeping, they just need to do a quick search in their email inbox.

For example, you can offer guests paperless receipts in Lightspeed ePOS by following these steps.:

  1. Log in to Lightspeed Retail. From the main menu, click Settings > General Options.
  2. From General Options, click Email. Fill in the Reply To/From Email Address with your store’s email address and the Recept Email Header and Receipt Email Footer with what you want customers to see on the top and bottom of their digital receipt.
  3. Next, go to Settings > General Options > Printing and select Disable Recept Auto Printing.
  4. After taking payment for a sale, click Email Receipt. If needed, fill in the customer’s name and email address.

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2. Encourage click-and-collect instead of home delivery 

So you’ve been selling online⁠—and perhaps you’ve noticed all those boxes and all that packing material can really start to add up. To make your eCommerce packaging more sustainable, you can start investing in recycled materials and cut down on any plastic or styrofoam you’re using. You can also encourage local online shoppers to pick up their goods, cutting out the need for any extra packaging altogether.

If you’re not ready to open your business up to in-store pickup just yet, or your customers aren’t quite ready to start coming in-store, you can still offer click-and-collect as an option. Advertise this method as a way to get their goods quickly while still benefiting from the convenience and safety of shopping online on your social channels.

To start offering click-and-collect as a shipping option through Lightspeed, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to Lightspeed eCom. From the main menu, click Settings > Shipping Methods.
  2. From Shipping Methods, click Add manual shipping method. Select In-store pickup.
  3. In the Title field, enter how long you plan to take to compile pickup orders (i.e. Pickup in-store in 1 business day)
  4. Click Add shipping rate. Set the Minimum weight to 0 and Maximum weight to 10000. Set the Rate excluding VAT to $0.00.
  5. Select the country your store is in. Hit save.

3. Recycle used gift cards 

Gift cards are often made of PVC plastic, which is particularly hard to recycle. In 2014, 10,000 tonnes of PVC waste were directly attributed to plastic gift cards. Retailers looking to be more sustainable should take a critical eye to how they use and sell gift cards.

You can cut down on how many new plastic gift cards you need to order and, as such, how many new plastic gift cards need to be printed, by recycling and reactivating used gift cards. 

To recycle old gift cards that have a zero balance, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to Lightspeed Retail. From the main menu, click Customers > Recycle Card.
  2. Scan the old gift card’s barcode (or enter it manually).
  3. Click Search.
  4. When it comes time to fill the gift card up again, do so as though it’s a new gift card. 
  5. (Optional) To encourage customers to return gift cards that have reached zero balance, offer a small discount for returning their card. Click Settings > Discounts, then New Discounts. Fill out the fields with the type of discount you’d like to offer (such as 5% off), name the discount and click Save Changes. At checkout, add the discount for customers handing over an empty gift card. 

4. Consistently keep track of inventory levels

Ordering inventory you don’t need doesn’t just create extra waste—it can impact your profits as well. By knowing exactly how much you have on hand, you can be environmentally and economically conscious at the same time.

Full inventory counts help you check up on your stock levels, but they’re time-consuming—prohibitively so. Doing regular cycle counts⁠—where you only count a portion of your inventory⁠—will help you keep on top of your inventory with accurate data without needing to do a full count of your store every single time.

To do an inventory count in Lightspeed, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to Lightspeed Retail. From the main menu, click Inventory > Inventory Counts > +New Inventory Count.
  2. Name your count after the current date. If you have multiple locations, select the shop you’re currently doing an inventory count for. Click Save Changes.
  3. Do your count of your selected inventory (for a cycle count) or all inventory (for a full count) using either a scanner or manually.
    If counting with a scanner: ensure your cursor is blinking in the Item Scan/Search field. As you scan each item, enter an item number corresponding to the amount you have in stock.
    If counting without a scanner: Select Print Item List on the inventory count page and select a Sort By method. Print the list and mark the quantity of the items you’re counting on the page. Return to the computer and select Print Item List again, then add the ID number from each item counted and the quantity.
  4. When your count is finished, click Reconcile > Reconcile Inventory.

5. Optimise purchase orders with sales data 

To further cut down on inventory waste, you can ensure you’re only ordering new inventory when you absolutely need it. This way, you can ensure you’re only keeping what you need on hand⁠—which is, again, good for both your profits and the environment.

Lightspeed helps retailers keep track of when they need to reorder without over-ordering by letting you set customer reorder points. To know the ideal reorder point for an item, you’ll need to know how fast items typically sell and how quickly, on average, it takes for new orders to arrive. From there, you can pick your reorder point and your desired inventory level.

Let’s say you have an item that usually sells about 5 units every 2 weeks (or 10 units in a month), and it takes 2 weeks for a new shipment to arrive. You aim to reorder this product once a month. Your desired inventory level would be 15 units, and your reorder point would be 5 units. In the middle of each month, you’d run the reorder point report in your Lightspeed ePOS, which would tell you how many you need to order to have enough to not be out of stock or grossly overstocked at the start of the next month⁠—in 2 weeks, after the shipment arrives. If you find you consistently have too much or too little on hand, adjust the desired inventory level and reorder points as needed. The goal should be to always have on hand exactly what you need so you’re not contributing to excess waste during manufacturing or shipping.

To use reorder points with Lightspeed, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to Lightspeed Retail. From the main menu, click Inventory > Item Search. Search for the item you wish to add a reorder point to.
  2. Under Re-ordering (This Location), enter your desired inventory level and reorder point.
  3. When you’re getting ready to fill out a purchase order, head to the main menu and select Reports > Reorder List.
  4. Items at or below their reorder point will be displayed

Ethical consumerism means good business

Businesses now have a responsibility to help their customers make sustainable choices, educate and reassure them that their choices can make a difference. That could be as simple as branding—like how C’est qui le patron?! puts ‘we pay our producers fair price’ in block capitals on each of their milk cartons; it could mean making wholesale changes to how you source materials, produce and ship goods to consumers. It could be as simple as using the right technology to make your day-to-day practices more sustainable and aligned with the expectations of the ethical consumer.

There has been a proliferation of ethically-driven brands in all retail verticals, from CHÉ Studios’ sustainable shirting to Cuyana’s commitment to conscious consumerism and ethical consumption. That’s because consumers now share the widespread belief that businesses have a responsibility to enable consumers to make sustainable choices, educate and reassure them that their choices can make a difference. 

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