Consumption, innovation and the environment

Household Consumption (EPIC)


Environmental pressures from households are significant, and without continued policy efforts their impacts are likely to intensify over the coming years. The analysis of environmental policy from the demand side is receiving increasing attention from governments but developing growth strategies that promote greener lifestyles and consumption patterns remains a challenge. 


In 2011 and 2008, the OECD carried out large-scale household surveys exploring what drives household environmental behaviour and how policies may affect household decisions. The surveys focused on five areas in which households have significant environmental impact: energy, food, transport, waste and water.

In addressing the interaction between micro-level behaviour and environmental policies across multiple environmental domains and countries, the Environmental Policies and Individual Behaviour Change (EPIC) surveys generate datasets that are unique in terms of their geographical coverage and environmental scope. Previous surveys have yielded a number of policy-relevant findings that have been discussed in numerous publications and working papers.

Why conduct a new round?

The current environmental, economic, and political context differs in important ways from that of 2011, and these differences are highly relevant for environmental policy. First public awareness of environmental issues has evolved. While progress has varied across time and countries, environmental issues have generally risen in prominence on the global and national agendas an in the public consciousness.


The signing of the Paris Agreement has signalled increasing political will to mitigate climate change, and global climate strikes have illustrated the extent to which the public is increasingly galvanised to address environmental issues. Rising economic inequality has contributed to increasingly widespread concern about distributional issues, which have proven highly relevant to the public’s receptivity to environmental policies such as fuel taxes.

Technological and organisational innovations have also altered the landscape of possible action that individuals can take in many domains. Particularly drastic changes have occurred in transport systems in recent years, ushered in by developments such as the spread of ride-sourcing and shared forms of micro-mobility (e.g. electric scooters), as well as the increased penetration of EVs. Consumer options have also changed in the domains of waste (e.g. the availability of no-sort recycling options and volume- or weight-based disposal fees), and energy (e.g. increasingly renewable electricity mixes and the increasing use of smart meter technology, household appliance efficiency and distributed household level energy generation). Policy priorities of many governments have also evolved in the last decade. Resource efficiency and the transition to a circular economy has also climbed rapidly to the top of environmental agendas of developed and developing countries. The implications of the Covid-19 crisis for environmental behaviours and attendant policy responses will also be explored.

Greening Household Behaviour: A review for policy makers

Personal behaviour and choices in daily life, from what we eat to how we get to work or heat our homes, have a significant – and growing – effect on the environment. But why are some households greener than others? And what factors motivate green household choices?

Answering these questions is vital for helping governments design and target policies that promote "greener" behaviour. The OECD Environmental Policy and Individual Behaviour Change (EPIC) survey is designed to do just that. This large-scale household survey explores what drives household environmental behaviour and how policies may affect household decisions. It focuses on five areas in which households have significant environmental impact: energy, food, transport, waste and water.

This policy paper is based on the second round of the EPIC survey, carried out in 2011 (the first was in 2008). The survey collected information from more than 12 000 households in Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Israel, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.








Previous work of the Environment Directorate on Household Consumption

The project on Household Behaviour and Environmental Policy was initiated with a review of existing empirical evidence on the main factors affecting people's behaviour towards the environment (Household Behaviour and the Environment: Reviewing the Evidence).

This project builds on previous OECD work on sustainable consumption developed since 1994. The activity was initiated with a comprehensive programme combining the development of a conceptual framework for the analysis of the effects of household consumption on the environment, sector case studies documenting trends, environmental impacts, and policy response in five areas of household consumption (food, tourism-related travel, energy, water and waste generation), and policy recommendations to influence household consumption. The results of this work are available: Towards Sustainable Household Consumption? Trends and Policies in OECD Countries.

Work focussing on energy-consuming consumer durables such as motor vehicles or household appliances was undertaken addressing key issues to reduce impacts from durable design, production, use and disposal. The report Decision-making and environmental policy design for consumer durables highlights the environmental and policy implications of household decisions with respect to consumer durable purchases and reviews some of the challenges facing policy makers as they seek to design environmentally effective and economically efficient environmental policies in this area.



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