Money talks: How concern for the planet is changing the way we shop

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The Independent Online

Bikes vs 4x4s

In the capital a battle is being fought between gas-guzzling 4x4s and greener-than-green cycles, and it looks as though the bikes are winning. Between 2001 and 2006, trips by bike increased by 50 per cent to 450,000 per day. There has also been a 15 per cent increase in journeys on the National Cycle Network, to 232 million journeys. In the previous year the rise was 11 per cent. And at Christmas, Ikea gave all its 9,000 UK "co-workers" folding bikes. Meanwhile, sales of 4x4 vehicles are falling, and it's happening faster in London than in the rest of the UK, according to new figures. There were 3,172 4x4s sold between January and May, down from 3,402 in the same period last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. This amounts to a 7 per cent fall in sales in London, compared with a 5 per cent drop across the country. A Mintel report also shows that 32 per cent of people nationwide are trying to cut down using their cars.

Oyster cards vs tickets

For Londoners, the paperless ticket is here to stay. More than three-quarters of all Tube and bus journeys are made using Oyster cards and the number of single journeys now paid for by cash is extremely low. According to Friends of the Earth and Transport for London, around 100,000 fewer paper tickets have been sold every day since Oyster was introduced in May 2003. But while Oyster cards may spell the end for paper tickets in the capital, another casualty is the Underground ticket office. Forty of the most lightly used ticket offices at Tube stations will close.

Energy-saving vs standard bulbs

It seems that shoppers are seeing energy-saving in a different light. According to figures released earlier this year by the market-research group GfK, sales of energy-saving light bulbs have increased by 58 per cent to £30m in the past year. Paul Mitchell, an account manager at GfK, says that "growth of halogen and fluorescent bulbs has been dwarfed by the appeal of energy-saving bulbs. The market has been driven by the switch from the old-style bulbs to energy-saving varieties, which allow consumers to save money on their bills and reduce their carbon footprint." Energy-efficient light bulbs can last up 12 times as long as traditional incandescent bulbs and only use a quarter of their energy. With the Government set to phase out incandescent bulbs by 2011 and Currys having announced that it is phasing out their sale, it seems that energy-saving bulbs have won this round.

Shoppers vs plastic bags

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that UK consumers use 10 billion plastic bags a year – or 167 each. For every one billion plastic bags produced, 9,000 tons of plastic is used and 18,000 tons of CO2 produced. But the plastic bag may be bowing out to the shopper bag. More than 20 retailers, including Asda, Boots, Debenhams, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Primark, have signed an agreement with the Government and the Waste and Resources Action Programme which proposes a 25 per cent cut in environmental impact of carrier bags by the end of 2008. Sainsbury's led the way with its "I'm not a plastic bag" shopper.

Bicarb vs bleach

When How Clean is Your House? became a TV hit, Asda reported a double-digit sales rise of traditional cleaning products such as scouring powder, vinegar and lemon juice. Mintel reveals that 32 per cent of us now believe such methods work, and a quarter of adults choose products such as soap and borax rather than more damaging bleach-based cleaners.

British vs Peruvian

Local produce for local people has become the battle cry of foodies across the UK. According to British Asparagus and the National Farmers' Union, in the last two years, sales of British asparagus were up by almost 60 per cent. A recent Mintel report on green and ethical consumers showed that 48 per cent of people use local independent shops and 33 per cent make an effort to buy locally produced goods. Although the British asparagus season is short, buying asparagus from Peru means the tasty stalks must travel 6,300 miles to reach the UK. The journal Food Policy claims in a report published in 2005 that local food is usually more "green" than organic food when it comes to its impact on the environment. Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet warns that "one basketful of imported food creates more carbon than an average family's cooking requirements for a whole six months". In light of this, plus the fact that the Soil Association has recently ruled that air-freighted food can't be called organic, British-grown vegetables are looking tastier than ever.

Trains vs planes

A survey by the research company emedia recently found that 34 per cent of responders were willing to spend more to reduce the impact on the environment of travelling, while 76 per cent were more likely to take environmental issues into account when booking their next holidays than they were the previous year. Thirty per cent were using alternative modes of transport, such as trains and coaches. Visit Britain says that coach operators are reporting an increase in bookings for 2007 from within the UK and from visitors from outside Britain for short breaks and tours in the UK and Ireland as well as to mainland Europe. Aviation is the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Government's own figures, in 2004 the UK aviation industry emitted an estimated 9.8 million tons of carbon. They project that this is likely to rise to 16-21 million tons of carbon by 2030. Since the UK is aiming to reduce carbon emission by 60 per cent by 2050, something has got to give, and it does not look like it is going to be air travel.

Pegs vs dryers

One of this year's biggest green success stories isn't a new solar-powered gadget or a carbon-neutral car. It's the clothes peg, enjoying soaring sales thanks to a backlash against tumble dryers. Between January and April this year, Asda sold more than 1.2 million pegs – up 1,400 per cent on the same period the previous year. Sales of washing lines and rotary dryers are also up 147 per cent. People are realising that, while tumble dryers may be convenient, they are carbon criminals. According to the Energy Saving Trust, just one use of a tumble dryer generates 1.5kg of carbon dioxide, which is enough to fill 150 balloons. Households that use a tumble dryer every time they put a wash on emit about 140kg of extra carbon dioxide a year, and the electricity used to power them could cost more than £70. According to eco-auditor Donnachadh McCarthy, "nobody has a real need for tumble dryers", which helps to explain why clothes pegs are selling so well.

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