A report from Mintel the market research organisation says that despite repression and financial pressures more people than ever want to buy environmentally friendly products and a "green wave' has swept through consumerism, taking in people previously untouched by an environmental conscience.
The report, published today, also predicts that the process will repeat itself with "ethical' products, involving issues such as fair trade with the Third World and the social record of businesses. Companies will have to be more honest and open in response to this mood.
Mintel's survey, based on nearly 1,000 consumers, found that the proportion who look for Green products and are prepared to pay more for them have climbed from 53 per cent in 1990 to 60 per cent in 1994. On average they would pay 13p in the pound more, although the premium is higher amongst women, managerial and professional groups and those aged 35 to 44.
Between 1990 and 1994 the proportion claiming to be unaware of or unconcerned about Green issues fell from 18 to 10 per cent but the number of Green spenders amongst older people and manual workers has risen substantially. Regions such as Scotland have also caught up with the South of England in their environmental concerns.
According to Mintel, the slightly "freakish' image of Green consumerism in the late 1980s - its association with "long hair and sandals" - has vanished. Angela Hughes, Mintel's consumer research manager, said it had become firmly established as a mainstream market.
"As far as the average man and woman in the street are concerned, environmentalism has not gone off the boil. It has spread across a much wider range of consumer groups, ages and occupations. "
Mintel's 1994 survey found that 13 per cent of consumers were "very dark green," nearly always buying environmentally friendly products, 28 per cent were dark green, trying "as far as possible" to buy such products, and 21 per cent were pale green - they"tend" to try and buy green products if they see them.
Another 28 per cent are armchair Greens; they say they care about environmental issues but their concern does not affect their spending habits. Only seven per cent say they do not care about Green issues.
Four in ten people are also "ethical spenders," buying goods which do not for example, involve dealings with oppressive regimes. The figure is the same as in 1990 although the n umber of "armchair ethicals" has risen from 28 to 35 per cent and only 22 per cent say they are unconcerned now, against 30 per cent in 1990.
"As the end of the 1990s approaches, consumers will be encouraged to think more about the entire history of the products and services they buy, including the policies of the companies that provide them. This will require a greater degree of honesty with consumers."
Amongst Green consumers, animal testing is the top issue - 48 per cent said they were would be deterred from buying a product if it had been tested on animals - followed by irresponsible selling, the ozone layer, river and sea pollution, forest destruction, recycling and factory farming. However , concern for such specific issues is lower than in 1990, suggesting that many consumers feel government and business have taken on the environmental agenda.
The Green Consumer, £1,395. Mintel, 18 to 19 Long Lane, London, EC1A 9HE.