This is a 1-year knowledge brokerage project that includes meta-analysis of relevant evidence on consumer behaviour, presented in a format that is readily understandable and useable for Nordic policy-makers and other stakeholders.

Levels of material consumption continue to increase in Nordic countries and Europe, and the global consumer class continues to grow as people in developing nations use their increasing purchasing power to emulate Western consumption patterns. We need to move away from the traditional ways of thinking about consumption – either that the social system and structures largely determine the actions of individuals, or that society is the sum of individuals acting independently. As Nordic countries have an ambition to be leaders in sustainability work, addressing sustainable consumption should be set as priority.

Understanding the forces that influence and shape consumption is an incredibly complicated task, especially since it is becoming clear that while sustainable production and product-related approaches have been widely adopted in many countries, progress on sustainable consumption remains to be seen even in Nordic countries. In fact, Nordic countries have some of the highest per capita ecological footprints in the world: Denmark has the third highest per capita ecological footprint, surpassed only by the oil-producing states of UAE and Qatar.  Finland, Sweden and Norway rank at 12th, 13th and 17th highest ecological footprints in the world.

One of the reasons why there has been relatively little progress in the field of sustainable consumption is due to persistent myths that have penetrated the mainstream discourse on sustainable consumption especially in policy circles. Holding on to these myths encourages traditional policy to focus on efficient production, greening the markets and providing environmental information to the population; this leaves consumption levels up to the preferences of individuals, with policy-makers hoping that “raising awareness” will change the paradigm of over-consumption and the throw-away mentality without substantially changing the prevailing economic principles. The myths thus prevent policy makers from seeing the complexity of the real situation, the futility of the half-measures advocated by the majority of countries and therefore from effectively addressing the sustainability challenges.

There is a substantial body of illuminating international research on consumer behaviour and pro-environmental behaviour from a broad range of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, behavioural economics and anthropology that is of great use for Nordic countries. However, this knowledge has not been widely understood and utilised by policy-makers or civil society organisations.  This study is especially timely as the 10-year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production is being shaped in May 2011; the success of actions and next steps for implementing the framework of programmes in 2012-2022 largely depends on knowledge brokerage in the area of understanding the consumptive behaviour of citizen-consumers, ways of working with addressing unsustainable consumption patterns and levels and on the potential role of governments (and other stakeholders) in shaping the institutional frameworks within which citizen-consumers act.

The goal of the study is to collect and disseminate evidence on consumer behaviour that is helpful for policy makers in devising policies for sustainable consumption. This 1-year 3-stage knowledge brokerage project aims to assemble and disseminate evidence that dispels myths about consumer-citizen behaviour that have penetrated the sustainable consumption discourse. The goal of focusing on knowledge-brokerage is to ensure that policy makers have the opportunity to make use of the broad body of existing knowledge on consumer behaviour, by bringing together and analysing research from a range of disciplines, and disseminating the results in an accessible format.

The scope of the project is Nordic and European, where European knowledge on consumer behaviour is made available for Nordic use, and findings from the empirical part of the study provide feedback to the European body of knowledge.

The results will assist policy makers in developing more effective change strategies, rather than falling back on ‘raising awareness’ and other popular, but ineffective tools. The primary target audience for the study is policy makers, governmental representatives and officers, Consumer Protection Agencies, Environmental Protection Agencies etc, primarily in the Nordic region, but also at EU level. Secondary target groups are other stakeholders working with consumption and sustainability issues, such as non-governmental and civil society organisations, as well as policy-makers in Europe that could benefit from learning more about the Nordic experience.

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