Hard sell goes green

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

A NEW chain of 'anti-shopping' shops is in prospect: stores that provide a wide range of consumer goods but try to curb customers' materialism.

The Newcastle-based New Consumer organisation, set up five years ago to promote green consumerism and 'ethical' trading - paying fairer prices for goods from the Third World - is planning to establish 15 to 20 'mini-department stores' within five years.

The group aims to combine the sophisticated retailing techniques of a Sainsbury or Tesco - centralised administration, buying and supply, for example - with the philosophies of the classical co-operative movement and a market presence as distinctive as the Body Shop's. According to Richard Adams, its director: 'We want to change people's ideas about the shopping experience, away from self-gratification to a perception of whether they are going to contribute to the kind of world we want in the future.'

The stores, provisionally named Futures, will aim to stock a much wider selection of goods than Oxfam shops, ranging from environmentally friendly food and cosmetics to green consumer durables and goods produced locally.

However, prices are likely to be higher. To reflect the extra social and environmental costs of the goods sold - for higher wages to Third World producers, for example - Mr Adams says premiums of 30 to 40 per cent would be necessary; but using some voluntary staff, coupled with cheap capital, could reduce this to about 10 per cent above corner-shop prices.

The theory behind Futures, says Mr Adams, is that while awareness of environmental and Third-World issues is higher than five years ago, 'we have not yet had measurable success in engaging with the public, particularly through the medium of the big idea of the late 20th century - shopping.'