Brazilians Not Willing to Pay for ‘Green’

Organic production in Brazil grows 30% a year, according to the Instituto Biodinâmico (IBC), an internationally recognized biodynamic institute. There are approximately 6.5 million hectares of land under organic production, placing the country in the second place among the world’s largest producers. The leading products are mainly extracted from the Amazon region: nuts, açai, palmito, latex, (super)fruits and other species from the tropical forest.

If the Brazilians should be willing to increase their consumption of organic products, increased production should result in cheaper products in the long run. But that’s the problem.

Although the Brazilian is aware of environmental and health issues, he has difficulty putting this into practice, when he has to spend extra money for it. More than 90% of  the Brazilians are not willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products, such as more economical household appliances and organic foods.

Only 27% of the consumers buy organic foods. At the other side of the coin, there is a willingness to save water (63% of the population) and electricity (48%) and to stop using plastic bags (40%).

These figures come from the market survey “Sustentabilidade: Aqui e Agora” (Sustainability: Here and Now), commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and the supermarket chain Walmart. 1,100 consumers in 11 state capitals were questioned about their habits on issues such as green consumption, waste, recycling and their perception of environmental problems. The survey was conducted by research firm Synovate.

Although 74% of the participants in the survey said to be motivated to buy products that have been produced with less environmental impact, the cost is a limiting factor when making the purchasing decision. According to the survey, 93% of the respondents are not willing to buy more economical appliances if they are more expensive. In terms of food, 91% are not willing to pay more for produce grown without chemicals and only 27% bought organic products in the last 12 months.

Inauguration of the first organic products market in Curitiba - Photo Levy Ferreira/SEED

Another point that deserves attention is that 59% of the respondents believed that preservation of natural resources must have priority above the issues related to economics. “This shows that Brazilians want development, but with attention to environmental issues and that creates a contradiction in terminus, putting economy contra ecology,” said Environmental Minister, Izabella Teixeira.

In relation to waste, 53% of the Brazilians still do not distinguish between dry and wet garbage for the recycling process. But in state capitals that are investing in structured programs of selective collection, such as Curitiba, the percentage of people that select waste rises to 82%, the highest in the country.

Even with the lack of infrastructure, the Brazilian is willing to recycle more. According to the study, 66% of the respondents would cooperate with separating their garbage.

Despite the willingness to give the correct destination to garbage, the Brazilians still lack information about how to dispose of certain types of waste. Data show that 70% of the consumers throw their empty batteries in the trash bin, 66% discard drugs also in the trash bin and 39% throw used cooking oil in the kitchen sink.

Plastic bags. The consumer shows a willingness to reduce and even eliminate the use of plastic bags in their daily lives. Although 90% of the Brazilians make constant use of the bags when they shop, 60% support a law that will prohibit this material.

“There is an across-the-board inclination of the society for public programs and policies that inhibit the use of plastic bags,” says Daniela di Fiori, vice-president for sustainability of Walmart. She said the way to reduce the consumption of bags is to give incentives to the consumer.

“Removing the bags from the shops was very badly received by the customer. People only began to join the program to reduce packaging when they were offered a discount on their purchases when declining the plastic bag,” tells Daniela. The supermarket offered a discount of BRL 0.03 (almost 2 USDollarcent) for every plastic bag not used, the amount representing the cost of the plastic bag.

Adriana Charoux, researcher sustainability of the Instituto Brasileiro de Defesa do Consumidor (Idec – Brazilian Consumer Defence Institute), concludes that there is a failure of conditions for the population to implement more sustainable attitudes in their day to day life. “The government should provide the framework for services such as selected waste collection and efficient public transport,” she says. According to Adriana, consumer products companies have to integrate the costs of production with higher sustainability standards. “The consumer is right, not to accept to pay more for green products. The reality is that in his perception, correctly, he already pays dearly for products.”