Conscious Consumers

Where: Wellington, NZ

When: We met on 29th January 2014. Conscious Consumers was first started in 2009 and launched with a sustainability guide for Wellington in 2010. This sparked interest from other councils. In 2012 funding was secured from the Ministry for the Environment to expand and refine the programme and in early 2013 an app, new website and expansion to the rest of the hospitality sector was created.

Who: I met with Melissa, the Sustainable business advisor and one of the co-founders. There are 10 other part-time staff, over 400 businesses on board and currently 8000 app users.

What: Conscious Consumers is a social enterprise which has developed an app for helping people (as consumers) to find and support businesses that are having positive social and environmental impacts. It acts as a business accreditation and marketing platform whereby businesses obtain badges for excellence in particular areas. There are 12 so far, in the areas of community, waste management and ethical products (e.g. fair trade, free range, organic, vegan etc). Businesses are assessed on an annual basis to ensure ongoing compliance with the badge accreditation standards.

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Why: Conscious Consumers was set up by a group of friends who wanted to do something more than their government jobs to create positive change. They wanted to focus on the power of the consumer for helping to shift society towards sustainability.

Melissa herself has been interested in sustainability and protecting the environment ever since she was small, learning about rainforest destruction when she was 8 years old and wanting to do something about it.

Businesses join the programme for various reasons – to be part of a community of like-minded businesses, to attract new customers, or to gain extra recognition for their environmental credentials.

Impacts/successes: There is an impressive amount of impact measurement related to how the businesses part of the programme are doing. In the last year, they have:
– spent $9,538,100 on local food and beverages.
– given $187,200 to help their local community and environment.
– avoided 189,900 items of disposable packaging.
– diverted 907,900 kilos of recyclables from landfill.
– save 1,340,800 containers potentially going to landfill.
– divert 768,000 kilos of organic waste from landfill.
– avoid 2,700 litres of non-eco cleaners.
– spend $1,020,000 on organic food and beverages.
– help 21,200 animals avoid factory-style farming.
– spend $1,211,400 on fair trade products.
– use 30,900 kilos of sustainable seafood.
– sell 1,868,700 vege and 545,300 vegan meals.

Further info: www.consciousconsumers.org.nz

Personal reflections: It is great to see how an original idea for a simple sustainability guide, for one local area, has spiralled into a mobile app used by people across New Zealand, gradually covering more and more business areas too. Melissa did issue a word of warning about how complicated and time-consuming building an app is. However it shows how scaleable ideas can be if the ambition (and money) is there to make the leap. They are now aiming to get the top 20% of hospitality businesses in New Zealand on board to generate critical mass for making it the norm. Not only this, their 3 year vision also involves becoming an internationally recognised brand and expanding to other business sectors- they are running a pilot in Barcelona right now and have plans to expand elsewhere as many other countries have shown interest too. I must admit it is making me think about how we can get it to Cambridge and the UK more widely too…

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