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Consumption on the Wrong Roads

  • Published on January 4, 2022

Consumers are constantly facing barriers which make their choices when buying goods and services more difficult. It could be a lack of supply on the market, lack of knowledge, or norms promoting an unsustainable consumption. It could also be commercial practices used by businesses which have a negative impact on consumers’ possibilities to take well-founded decisions. The Swedish Consumer Agency has, based on an assignment of the Swedish government, identified significant barriers which are described in two different sections of the report. The first part is an analysis of significant barriers to well-functioning consumer markets, and the other an analysis of barriers to environmentally sustainable consumption. Each part is also including a discussion on different types of actions which could address the identified barriers. Information is a common action to increase consumers’ abilities and motivation to act in a more sustainable way or to take well-founded decisions, even though research shows that such measures rarely are effective. Knowledge about psychological mechanisms including how they affect human behaviour is important, not at least to understand how businesses have an impact on consumer choice by introducing behavioural insights in their business practices. A combination of different actions is needed to address the identified barriers.

This report by Swedish Consumer Agency establishes the main barriers for sustainable consumption in Sweden. Barriers include the digitalizing consumer market in which consumers can easily be impacted by overloaded information, misleading practices, or data sharing that can be used for targeted advertizing. Another barrier is the significant price difference in between sustainable and unsustainable goods, which is why many consumers are prone to purchasing unsustainable products. Meanwhile, the supply of certain sustainable products is not at the desired level, which is limiting many consumers access to products they might want to support. On the other hand, social norms and the attachment to identity can also impact consumers willingness to change their habits. To address these issues, policy adjustments are needed that will give more consumers the opportunity to support sustainable consumption.

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