The consumer demand for greener product and service options can drive a shift towards a more sustainable economy. Changing consumer behaviour can result in, for example, an increased uptake of renewable energy in households and selection of consumer products made with the use of renewables.
Many consumers today are concerned about sustainability, but making it easy and attractive to be a “green consumer” is crucial to translate this interest into action. One area where initiatives have directed consumer behaviour in a more sustainable direction is in the purchase of electric cars. In many places, like Norway, sales are growing because of governmental interventions that make the choice of buying an electric car attractive to consumers. This can be achieved through, for example, price incentives or initiatives like privileged parking status or access to restricted lanes. Initiatives like public procurement policies that favour “green” products and services can directly increase demand for these options. Resulting spillover effects on private consumption have also been shown to exist.
However, social norms also play an important role in shaping consumer choices. Studies have shown that these norms are the prime reason why people choose sustainable products and services. For example, opting to holiday close to home to avoid the emissions resulting from air travel has a high signalling value for the individual. As such, the value of being associated with a sustainable lifestyle can be leveraged to promote more sustainable consumer choices. Design and marketing to make green products attractive is essential here.
Consumers care about sustainability, but if they are to act accordingly, credible information about the benefits of green choices as well as initiatives to facilitate them (such as labelling) need to be adopted. These can also help to build demand-side pressure to initiate larger structural changes.