Going to the dogs

25 February 2008

This is possibly the least surprising survey outcome of the year – UK consumers put animals above the environment when it comes to their ethical priorities.

According to a wide-ranging poll by the Co-op, just 4% of UK shoppers rank climate change as their main ethical concern, compared with 21% who put animal welfare at the top. Now, issues such as intensively-reared chicken meat and eggs, recently highlighted by a bunch of so-called celebrity chefs, are obviously worthy and to be taken seriously.

But  - and I don’t know about you – I’m under the impression that if climate change isn’t arrested, we’ll eventually induce a shift in the ecosystem that threatens the existence of many species, ourselves included. So how is animal welfare perceived as more important than something that threatens the planet itself?

My guess is that it’s something people feel they can impact more directly - if we buy only free range products, the alternatives will no longer make commercial sense. And consumer activism of this nature does seem more prominent than it has been for many years.

So it begs the question, how can the threat of climate change become an issue that people really feel like they can influence, and how can financial services companies ensure the message gets across?

Sure, ethical funds are one popular answer, although the remits used by many of them are at present so broad that deterring companies and industries from indulging in damaging practices seems optimistic at best. And while climate change has become a more prominent theme in the message delivered by the large financial services groups, is it any more than lip service?

As Co-op chief executive Peter Marks said, it’s a case of informing people about the threat we face and the actions we can take, which is why the survey results are worrying. But this might be harder than it should be in a country where the average cuddly pet enjoys a status higher than that of the typical pensioner trying to scrape enough pennies together to get through winter in one piece.