Ethical Performance
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Confirmed: ethical goods will usually cost you more

November 2010

The widespread belief that buying ‘ethical’ consumer goods is nearly always the more costly option has been confirmed by a new study.

An analysis of the prices of white goods, electricals, cosmetics, utilities, clothing, and food has found that in general the average cost of brands deemed to be of the highest ethical standard is significantly greater than those that are not. In the worst cases, average prices can be more than six times greater.

The study, by the UK-based Ethical Consumer Research Association (ECRA), looked at the average price of the three brands in each of 17 product categories awarded the best ‘ethiscore’ by ECRA on the basis of 19 factors such as performance on pollution and toxics, animal testing, human rights, irresponsible marketing, product sustainability, and supply chain policy.

This price was then compared with the average for the three brands in each category receiving the worst ethiscores.

The results showed that of the 17 product types studied, 13 of the most ethical versions were more expensive than the least ethical.

While the difference was relatively small with some products, such as washing up liquid (two per cent) and mobile phones (4.2 per cent), there were huge gaps in others. The average price of the three most ethical brands of shampoo was 906 per cent higher than that of the least ethical, while with soap the difference was 509 per cent and for toothpaste it was 291 per cent.

One exception was in the white goods section, where the more ethical options were generally cheaper. The more ethical cookers were fractionally less expensive – £1.67 less – than those at the bottom of the ethiscore table, but fridges were 30 per cent cheaper and the more ethical dishwashers worked out at almost six per cent less. Ethical-option televisions were also slightly cheaper.

In the cosmetic section ethical brands were considerably more expensive, with the exception of sun cream, which came out at £3.34, or 25 per cent, cheaper.

The study attempted wherever possible to use like-for-like products, so that, for instance, in the television category it compared 19-inch plasma screen units only.

ECRA concludes that ‘overall it is true to say that the more niche ethical goods are more expensive’, but adds that ‘it’s clear from our study that it’s not correct to say there is always an ethical premium’.

When it compiled a second set of results comparing average pirces of the worst ethiscore products with those that did not have the best ethiscores but nonetheless performed reasonably well, the difference in price came down significantly. The shampoo price differential was cut to 95 per cent, while the average soap prices of such ‘second division’ ethical brands actually worked out 47 per cent cheaper than those with the worst ethiscores.

The results are in the latest issue of Ethical Consumer magazine, which is published by ECRA.

Ethical Consumer Research Association | UK & NI Ireland | Research

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