Economic interests dominate the world and the global environment. Consumers in upper-income countries can use their buying power to strengthen the market for goods that do the least harm to the environment, by switching from one brand to a more "environmentally friendly" brand. The cumulative effect of millions of "green consumers" has in the past and can continue to force significant market changes towards environmentally friendly resource consumption.
Market research has established that six of the top ten features for a product closely relate to the environment and include: safe to use around children, no strong fumes, no toxic ingredients, and no chemical residues. Shoppers were found most likely to act on environmental impacts they experience personally. Consumers of household cleaning products, for example, care about product safety, toxicity, and fumes. These concerns hit home with consumers and stand in contrast to broader environmental issues.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
Concerns over declining fish stocks have prompted Unilever and the World Wide Fund for Nature to form the Marine Stewardship Council, which will establish industry-wide principles for sustainable fishing. Fish harvested according to the Council's standards will be eligible for certification, or eco-labelling, so that consumers can choose to buy the more sustainable product.
A certification scheme has been launched by the Forest Stewardship Council to guide consumers towards wood products from sustainably managed forests.
In recent years, a growing minority of people have been cutting down on animal products in their diets, or adopting vegetarianism, partly because environmental concerns. Successful green consumer movements include dolphin friendly tuna, lead free petrol, organically grown food, free range meat, bulk-buy facilities, less wasteful and more recyclable product packaging, recycled paper, and a phasing out of chemical additives in a diversity of products. As of 1990, Europe's largest group promoting ecological products is Euro-Eco. The greening of manufactured products is expected to continue.
More than four-fifths of the world's resources are consumed by the rapidly shrinking fraction of the global population (now less than a quarter of the total) that lives in industrialized countries; this overconsumption must be brought under control.
It is a myth that there is great consumer interest in ecolabels. Certainly market research shows that consumers express strong verbal preferences for products which claim to do least ecological damage. However, as political opinion polls have shown, verbal preferences are not always converted into real votes. Deep green consumers who always buy environmentally less damaging products are increasing in number by remain quite rare in percentage terms.