Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Socially Responsible Consumer

A lot has been, and will be said about the social responsibility of businesses. But what about the social responsibility of consumers ? This article set me thinking

Each one of us, as consumers, have the power to make or break businesses – every time we buy, or not buy, something, we hold in our hand the fate of every business in the supply chain of that product. Should we not exercise this power in a “responsible” way.

Most of our purchasing decisions are purely dictated by what is good for us – cheapest price, the best quality, whatever. Nothing wrong with that. But its worth a thought if some other criteria might also come into the equation.

The area where consumers are beginning to act is climate change. Like buying locally made goods. Shunning products that are harmful to the environment (like gas guzzling vehicles). Carbon offsets in flying. And so on.

A few companies have tried to compete on a social theme. Companies like The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry ice cream, etc. But in the end they have been swallowed by traditional big businesses. That’s simply because consumers and shareholders haven’t attached enough of an importance to their social theme. But I believe that’s changing rapidly in today’s world.

It’s an interesting thought. As a consumer, why do we not consider products (without a too material sacrifice on quality or price) that either do “good” themselves, or come from companies that do “good” more than others. Admittedly it’s a difficult concept and we may not know enough to make that choice. Many a time, what appears on the surface isn’t true either. But if this starts to get into consumers’ mindset, things will change rapidly.

So perhaps the ball is in our court.


A journey called Life said...

it defnitely is.. small steps can go a long way.. will apply consiously next time im buying something..

Anonymous said...

Socially responsible consumers - hadnt heard of the term until today! This reminds me of Sunfeast ad back in India where they said they will support villages from profits made from every biscuit pack or something like that. Many others started a similar trend which is good.

BTW, I m reading your book recco: Barbarians at the Gate and I can easily picture the head honchos coming up with social cause tag just to drive up their sales!! :D

A journey called Life said...

actually applied this to chotu's toys.. no Fisher Price (after some serious thought)for him.. bought some local stuff which suited him just fine..

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard of this term, Ramesh, but have been one when in India. But, now that I am not able to make the choice, I am a bit confused...Can you educate us a little on the choices to make? Thanks for sharing this!

JS said...

Consumer driven change can be very powerful. For instance, I feel quite sheepish whenever I forget to take my reusable grocery bags to the grocery store. The judgemental looks(at least in my mind) of my fellow shoppers and the checkout clerk don't help!

Preeti Shenoy said...

Yes--i agree 100% It may not be possible in all cases, but whatever we can we must do.
I always buy only handmade recycled paper. In pondicherry there is a handmade paper factory. Worth visiting.

Ramesh said...

@AJCL - nice example of Chotu's toys.

@thoughtful train - Sunfeast is a perfect example of the dielmma the consumer can face. Yes, there was a village development link to their product. But they also belong to a cigarette company. Each consumer will need to make the choice based on her own value systems.

@Savitha - See earlier example of the toughness of choice. Also you rarerly know which company is behind a product and what do they do - you only hear of what they advertise which always has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Hence as a consumer you don't know what to "support", even if you wanted to. The fact that I am struggling to give you an example from Singapore is testimony to this.

@JS - An excellent example of how legislation, coupled with strong embrace from the people can make a significant difference.

@Preeti - Thanks - another good example of buying handmade recycled paper.

Srivats said...

Thats a interesting thought and debateble too. I have shopped in body shop (not so manly u may think hehe) and other eco friendly shops/products in regards to the thoughts you have expressed here.

Its rather difficult to be a responsible buyer these days, terms in advertisements misleads, and its hard to distinguish between a exhuberantly priced branded products, which boasts for doing what so ever environmental acts (thats true or not is again a big question), and the actual ones. How can I be spending 10$ for a soap if I can get 3 soaps for 6$ in the nearby market.

Plus the cheap and attractive goods, the ones tested on animals, poured out tonnes of chemical waste and cares nothing for anyones wellness except thier own, are the market leaders in most of the product lines. Why because they know the pulse of the consumers.

It can only mean producing something in eco-friendly is so costly or there are not much companies who are willing to do that.

Although we are consumer driven market, there is only little we can do about it, only information leads to awareness and that leads to better choice. Unless someone comes up with Eco - friendly shopping listing directory its hard :)

May be you can enlighten us on the shops that are worth our dime :)

p.s : Here I have used the term eco friendly manytimes, but I feel the ideas expressed goes well for other socially responsible / good for all prodcuts as well.

Srivats said...

hey jus read the article , very informative learnt about greenwashing and all :)

Thanks much!

Sandhya Sriram said...

what a coincidence. today morning, i was just seeing the label on the pickle bottle i bought from Namdhari recently. it said it was made at a self help group of some farmers in TN (Navadharshana group). felt very good that unknowingly, i have also been part of supporting this small self help group even though at a small premium which i could definitely afford.
Lot of hotels/ shops add a dollar to the bill for a SR purpose which is very good jesture. but at the same time, the chanellisation of the money so collected is also equally important

I had an opportunity to spend a month with a lots of NGOs operating in the earth quake affected areas of Gujarat. one common observation was that there wasnt a specific constraint in terms of availability of money. the problem which many NGOs were facing but not really acknowledging was their ability to channelize the money appropriately in the intended fashion.

Having said this, the very fact that people can get out of their material life and devote to making a difference in some unrelated individual's life itself is adequate to over shadow the probable lack of ability to manage the moneys in a fashion which otherwise a entrepreuner would have done.

Ramesh said...

@Sri - You are absolutely right. If there's no neutral info onwhat exactly the product or the company does on the social front, there will be dubious claims. But I believe this will develop in the near future

@Sandhya - Yes, supporting such initiatives like the pickle example would be a great way for us to start being more "responsible" consumers. Your point about NGOs is very right. Many ofn them have the money; few of them have the organisational skills ton actually implement on the ground. That is why I am a great votary of corporate volunteering.

Srivats said...

ahaa naan kuda correcta comment podrena :) super unga blog padichuttu en arivu valara arambichuduchu

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