“Ethical consumption gives people the power to create positive change.”
Interviewee: Gordon Renouf
CEO, Good On You, Australia
Interviewer: Sayo Kawahira, Environmental researcher, Writer
‘Ethical consumerism’ ― We have heard about this but maybe we are not exactly sure what it is.
We interviewed Mr Gordon Renouf, CEO of Good on You in Australia to find out what is ethical consumerism, why it’s important and how your shopping behaviour influences companies to produce or not to produce ethical products.
Good On You is the phone app that helps you find ethical brands or similar brands that do better through the rating system (It rates brands from 1 star: “We avoid” to 5 star: “Great” in Labour, Environment and Animal categories). You can find a wide range of brands from internationally recognized H&M, Levi’s, Adidas and Nike to Japanese brands such as UNIQLO and MUJI. There are also a lot of smaller brands that are completely focused on being ethical. This app is very user-friendly. The overall review of each brand as well as the specific information about each category are easily found on one page.
1. What is ethical consumerism and why it’s important?
Ethical consumption is the simple act of taking into account the impact of our purchasing choices on issues that are important to us. It’s a way of taking action when we shop to try and make the world a better place. It is usually associated with concerns about animal welfare, labour standards and human rights, and environmental sustainability. It can also be called ‘conscious consumption’ or ‘sustainable consumption.’
As a consumer, every time we make a purchase we send a message to the companies that make products and services about the kinds of products that they should create. If everyone buys pink shorts, then brands will make more pink shorts. If no one buys purple UGG boots, then companies will stop making them.
When people start to prefer products that are made in fair working conditions and without harming the environment then companies have a strong incentive to be seen to be responding to consumers’ concerns. This is important because it gives people the power to create positive change on the things that matter to them. Even if only a few percent of people start changing their shopping behaviour, this can have a real impact on brands that are striving to sell more and make more profits.
2. What are the reasons that you created the phone app “Good On You”?
Our vision is a world where consumer choices drive companies to be sustainable and fair.
The Good On You app seeks to empower shoppers to know which brands are doing better on the issues they care about like how they treat their workers, impact on the environment and/or animal welfare.
We talked to hundreds of consumers and learned that most people want to support brands that do better. In saying that, it’s very hard for the shopper to tell which ones are taking positive action and which ones are not. So, Good On You is a convenient way to check how a brand rates, and to find different brands that are doing better on the things that matter to you.
At the moment, Good On You is focussed on clothing brands (including footwear and accessories). We will expand to cover other product types in the future.
3. What is the trend in the field of ethical consumerism with ICT?
There are already many labeling schemes that apply to consumer products, like Fair Trade and organic certification. But the limitation of a labelling scheme is it only applies to a relatively small number of brands that choose to be involved with the scheme. Labeling schemes are very important. But consumers also want information about all the other brands that have not become labelled. They are not all equal.
ICT especially mobile phone mean we can make it much more convenient for the shopper to find the best brands that meet their needs. Even where there is no traditional certification label, consumers are able to look up the brands or even look up the brands that they’ve never encountered before on the spot to help to find the ethical products that they need.
Since consumers are attracted to a huge range of potential products from many thousands of brands, an app like Good On You is required to provide information on as many brands as possible to meet the demand. Moreover, it is a lot easier to interact with consumers directly through apps or even websites to welcome relevant suggestions and discussions about the brands.
4. How are Japanese brands going with ethical consumerism compared to other brands in the world?
Transparency plays a huge and crucial part of ethical consumerism. Brands should provide all the information that consumers would like to have (e.g. who made their clothes, where they were made, impacts on animals, the environment and workers). They should also consider working with robust certification schemes and standard systems like Fairtrade or the Global Organic Textile Standard.
However, the brand like Muji, the information that it’s mentioned above isn’t available in English. Since the app is assessed the information available in English, it’s rated as 1 star: “We avoid” on Good On You app. In one way, this might seem unfair as they are a Japanese company, however, their markets are international. Thus, we expect them to publish the positive sustainability story (If they have one) on their English and other languages’ websites.
The other brand which is internationally recognised is Uniqlo. It is often categorised as ‘fast fashion’ along with other brands such as H&M and Zara. Many people are concerned at the impact of the ‘fast fashion’ business model on the environment and workers. There has been a lot of action, particularly after the death of more than 1,000 people when a factory collapsed at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh 2013.
A demand for brand transparency is a huge issue that has arisen after this tragic incident. Unions and NGOs and the new Fashion Revolution movement have all kept up the pressure on the fast fashion brands to do better.
Some like H&M, Zara and Uniqlo (3 stars: “It’s a Start”) have taken some action to improve, others have done much less. But these brands are still a long way short of truly taking care of the environment or their workers.
After the interview
Now we know our daily shopping behaviour is affecting companies’ decisions about their product lines. They influence how much effort companies make to avoid harm to the environment, labour and animal welfare. We have the right to choose what to wear. We also have the right to know how our products are made. Why don’t we choose the companies which are transparent about their activities towards making the world a better place? Let’s create the positive and sustainable circle flowing from our shopping choices!