Environment is friendlier thanks to consumer demand

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2007, 12:00am

Environmentally friendly products are becoming more popular with consumers and manufacturers, says Andrew Thomson, chief executive of the Business Environment Council. 'Consumers are increasingly asking for green products, driving retailers to demand these products from manufacturers. That's good news for the council and the environment,' he said.

Mr Thomson said the growing demand would fuel economies of scale in green products and encourage manufacturers to produce more items and promote innovation.

However, Mr Thomson warned that 'unless we get green products in droves, we're not going to achieve much'.

But Mr Thomson is optimistic that things are changing globally and locally. Awareness of climate change has boosted interest and concern about the environment. From cars to carrots, consumers around the world are looking for products that cause least damage to the environment.

He said while some green products often had a higher retail price, others did not, and even if they did buyers should look at the overall cost of a product rather than just the price tag.

'They can be more expensive or they can be cheaper. Organic produce tends to be more expensive but you need to look at other benefits like health and sustainability.'

With other non-perishable products, he said shoppers should look at what he called the 'lifetime ownership costs'. With the DimmerABLE light bulb, for example, which won the council's gold award recently, the price for the lowest wattage in the range is HK$149, rising to HK$288 for the highest wattage, substantially more expensive than regular bulbs. But the DimmerABLE will last about 10 times longer than its incandescent equivalent and uses 80 per cent less electricity. The overall result is a similar cost, according to the producer.

In addition, using fewer bulbs means less waste products and less packaging, and buyers have the satisfaction of knowing they are contributing to environmentally sound practices.

'You're going to be better off buying these light bulbs, and you're going to sleep better at night knowing that you're doing the right thing,' Mr Thomson said.

The recent commitment of Wal-Mart, the United States' largest retailer, to stock its shelves with 20,000 environmentally friendly products in the next couple of years was a huge boost to the green industry, he said.

The company, which he said bought about 5 per cent of total China-US exports, had been heavily promoting its 'earth-friendly' products and its policies were often seen as a benchmark for other retailers. In Hong Kong, the scale of progress was smaller but growing and Mr Thomson said he was encouraged that more green products were now available as this meant positive changes in consumer habits.

Evidence of the demand was on the shelves - supermarkets in Hong Kong were now offering a range of eco-friendly products, he said.

Other signs are the small numbers of independent shops and markets selling organic products that are springing up.

'One of the barriers is getting people to trust something that's new,' he said, adding that consumers were already accustomed to buying energy saving light bulbs.

'You've got to break habits. The key is to educate consumers. While retailers and manufacturers of green products in other countries often market their products prominently, Hong Kong producers tend to be much more reticent.'



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