Consumption, innovation and the environment

Information and Consumer Decision-Making for Sustainable Consumption

 

Consumers are concerned about the environment and how their own actions contribute to environmental quality. However, trends in environmental impacts from household consumption patterns today show that such concern is not always translated into actions and changes in consumption patterns. Information is a potentially effective tool for empowering consumers to act in favour of the environment.

Improved access to quality information can enhance public environmental awareness and give the public the opportunity to take account of environmental concerns in their everyday decisions. Understanding consumer decision-making process and the dynamics of information is important for designing strategies to help households reduce the environmental impacts of their consumption patterns (see background paper ).

In January 2001 OECD Environmental Directorate organised an Experts Workshop on Information and Consumer Decision-Making for Sustainable Consumption. The main objectives were to analyse and discuss challenges and opportunities for using information to encourage consumer decision-making for the environment, exchange experiences, and identify innovative or good practice strategies for improving the effectiveness of government information-based instruments to help households reduce the environmental impacts of their purchases and behaviour.

OECD Environment Outlook shows that the environmental impacts from household consumption patterns will grow in many areas in the next two decades, particularly in the areas of energy consumption, personal travel and waste generation. Even though efficiency gains can be made in several areas, technological advances will not be sufficient to overcome the impact from volume increases in household demand. Addressing the environmental impacts from household decision making will require the use of different tools and strategies. Information is a potentially effective tool for empowering consumers. However, we are faced with an "information dilemma" -- despite the richest and arguably most transparent information environment ever available to consumers, little of that information has motivated consumers to reduce their impacts on the environment (see background paper ).