'Ethical goods sales now at £47bn'
Sales of ethical goods and services have increased despite the recession, growing to more than £47 billion last year, a report shows.
Since the onset of the economic downturn five years ago, the value of ethical markets from Fairtrade products and green energy to free-range and sustainable food has gone from £35.5 billion to £47.2 billion, the Co-operative said.
The organisation's annual ethical consumer markets report shows that sales in the sector have grown from £13.5 billion in 1999.
Despite the recession putting a squeeze on household spending, sustainable fish has become increasingly popular, up to £292 million last year from £69 million five years ago, Fairtrade sales more than doubled to £1,262 million in 2011 and free range eggs sales rose from £444 million to £792 million.
But sales of organic produce fell from a high of £1.9 billion in 2008 to around £1.5 billion last year.
Small-scale green energy boomed last year, with people benefiting from the feed-in tariff subsidies for solar panels, and overall markets for green home products increased by more than 10% on the previous year to be worth £8.4 billion.
The Co-operative put the resilient performance of ethical markets down to consumers, increasing action by business and more regulatory intervention.
Barry Clavin, sustainability reporting manager at the Co-operative, said: "This report shows that intervention by enlightened businesses, together with regulatory intervention, is driving ethical sales growth.
"During the downturn we've seen some of the biggest-ever Fairtrade conversions, be it in chocolate or sugar, and business is beginning to respond to the challenge to provide consumers with more sustainable products and services such as fish, palm oil and soya.
"Ethical consumers are still a vitally important agent of change. However, the actions of progressive business are now a significant contributor to sales growth."