Should environmental protection depend on each shopper choosing the environment above and beyond all those other considerations? The popularity of green choices waxes and wanes. It reached a peak around 1990 and then declined for a number of years before rising again temporarily.
In September 1991, Deirdre Macken reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that between 1989 and 1990 the number of people prepared to buy environmentally friendly products dropped from 33 per cent to 17 per cent. Environmentally damaging products, such as plastic shopping bags, were still being used as much as ever, and electricity and petrol use had increased.
Back on the supermarket shelves, the first environmentally sound disposable nappy, Econappy, has just been withdrawn; Glad's biodegradable plastic bag has been scrapped; the market share of eco-friendly toilet paper has dropped 17 per cent to 10 per cent and the share of environmentally safe cleaners has been halved.
This was partly due to false or misleading advertising claims that led to confusion over which products were truly green. But it was also due to the falling priority people placed on environmental concerns as the economic situation worsened. People quite understandably began to worry about other things.
In 2007 three out of four of Australians said that environmental performance was a factor in their shopping decisions and 30% said they were willing to pay 10% more for an item if it was better for the environment. But that was before the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
Green consumerism only works when environmental concerns are in focus and topical, even fashionable. It is unwise to rely on such a mechanism to create continuing conditions for technological change.