Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Improving Nordic policymaking by dispelling myths on sustainable consumption

Key messages from our study “Improving Nordic policymaking by dispelling myths on sustainable consumption” funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers are published

Key messages for policy-makers:

It is unrealistic to expect a sustainable society to materialise from current political strategies on sustainable consumption. The changes needed are significant, and the research explored in this study shows that policy makers have a plethora of opportunities to create positive change using strategies and tools synergistically.

Our society is consumptogenic: the structures of society promote consumption patterns that Nordic people think of as normal, but which are unsustainable. On the other hand, citizens who attempt to make significant lifestyle changes for sustainability face insurmountable socio-cultural barriers to sustainable practices. This highlights the need for governments to lead the shift to cultures of sustainability.

Governments need to lead the shift to sustainability by creating the societal structures that make sustainable living the default option. Innovation in technology and infrastructure, regulation, pricing, marketing and new social norms can be used in combination to create sustainable choice architecture.

Regulations are often the most effective policy tools for changing consumption patterns. Although regulations may be more challenging to implement, evidence is available showing practical techniques for successfully implementing stronger policy interventions. Regulations are often more effective when used in combination with other policy instruments, e.g. economic and information tools in policy packages.

Building positive social norms is essential for embedding sustainable practices in everyday life and for increasing public acceptability for stronger consumption policies. Even coercive, proscriptive policies that require significant lifestyle changes (e.g. switching from private car use to public transport) can gain higher public acceptance by using appropriate framing techniques, reinforcing pro-societal and pro-environmental social norms, and by providing safe, comfortable and cheap sustainable alternatives to unsustainable behaviours.

A policy focus is needed on facilitating change away from high-impact consumption areas (e.g. flying, consumption of meat and dairy products and car driving) to lower-impact consumption areas (e.g. vegetarian diets, public mobility, local leisure and cultural activities, and personal development).

Understanding and supporting the drive of humans to become happier and healthier, there is a need to discuss a much greater diversity of paths to well-being than is currently offered. It may be useful to communicate a wider vision of well-being, which includes pro-societal values such as resilient communities, equitable, fair and sustainable resource use, health, education and personal development, peace and stability, environmental and social justice and other macro-issues that indirectly influence individuals and families. To support and encourage sustainable ways of living new metrics of societal prosperity needs to be developed.

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