- Consumer Information for SCP
- Sustainable Lifestyles and Education
'Tell me more and (maybe) I’ll do it: consumer information for sustainable decisions?' is the seventh webinar from the broader series: ‘Sustainable Living 1.5: Empowering People to live better and lighter’.
Date: 20 October 2020
Time: 14.00-15.30 CET
Context: Consumers play an important role in the transition towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 12. Consumer information tools such as ecolabels or apps can enable consumers to make more informed choices. However, there are many challenges in ensuring that the provision of reliable sustainability information effectively leads to more sustainable decisions.
14:00 – 14:15 Opening remarks
14:00 – 14:05 Welcome and introduction to the Webinar Series – Garrette Clark, UNEP
14:05 – 14:10 Introduction to Consumer Information Programme – Noer Adi Wardojo, Head, Center for Standards, Ministry of Environment and Forestry Indonesia
14:10 – 14:15 Introduction to consumer information – Nils Heuer, Consumer Information Programme , UNEP
14:15 – 14:55 Panelists’ presentations (8 minutes each)
14:15-14:23 Consumer information tools for low carbon choices – Beatriz Martins Carneiro, UNEP
14:23-14:31 Mi Codigo Verde, a consumer platform on product sustainability – Antonia Biggs Fuenzalida, Lead Sustainable Consumption and Production / Circular Economy at Fundación Chile
14:31-14:39 Product and lifestyle calculators – Vanessa Timmer, One Earth
14:39-14:47 Consumer insights – Helio Mattar, Akatu Institute
14:47-14:55 Effective communication to engage consumers – Claire Kneller, WRAP
14:55 – 15:30 Panel discussion and Q&A
14:55 – 15:20 Moderated discussion with panelists
15:20 – 15:30 Q & A with audience
Moderation: Naomi Scott-Mearns, Sustainable Consumption Manager at Consumers International
Key messages from webinar #7 Tell me more and (maybe) I’ll do it: consumer information for sustainable decisions
Many people in the sustainability field strongly believe that if consumers have the right information, they would do the right thing and opt for sustainable choices. But governments and businesses also play an important role to enable and provide more default sustainable living options. The seventh webinar from the broader webinar series Sustainable Living 1.5: Empowering people to live better and lighter invited expert panelists to discuss the empowering role of consumer information tools and how we can encourage behavior change for more sustainable decisions.
1. Introduction to consumer information
First, Noer Adi Wardojo (Head, Center for Standards, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia) introduced the work of the UN Consumer Information Programme (CI-SCP) which is also part of the One Planet Network. “The objective of the programme is to support the provision of quality information on goods and services, and effective strategies to engage consumers in sustainable consumption.” Currently, there are four working groups that work on guidelines to provide product sustainability information; ecolabels; product lifetime extension to advance the circular economy; and biodiversity and communication – all of this with the intention to make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices!
Next, Nils Heuer (Consumer Information Programme , UNEP) explained how consumer information can support behavior change and decision making. But what does consumer information actually mean? “It’s the information that consumers need to make an informed choice. If we want to enable consumers to make sustainable consumption decisions, sustainability information needs to be accurate, credible and accessible!” Generally speaking, consumer information tools are the means to communicate this information and eventually guide consumers to make more sustainable choices when purchasing goods or services. Such tools can include certifications, ecolabels, ratings, benchmarks, consumption calculators, digital tools or consumer information campaigns. Yet, one of the key challenges is the complexity of the sustainability concept itself and the difficulty to design tools that address all the different aspects and dimensions of sustainability. Besides, there is still an issue with credibility, trust and confusion regarding the information that is provided but not necessarily backed by strong evidence, which can ultimately evade the trust of consumers or confuse them. It is also important to mention that consumer information is only one of the ways to encourage sustainable consumption and there are many other factors influencing behaviour change, including better education and communication!
2. Consumer information tools for low carbon choices
Beatriz Martins (Programme Management Officer, UNEP) explored what key information triggers consumer action and facilitates low-carbon choices, particularly in the buildings, food and tourism sector. As we all know by now, behavioral change is a key element in fostering climate change mitigation and consumer information tools play an important role in this context! For instance, using carbon labels that focus on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are commonly used as tools for policy, marketing and to guide consumer decisions but can also help companies to benchmark products and improve their performance. Carbon labels need to provide intuitive information to the consumer. For example, the use of the green to red scale label has shown to work more effectively than the one just mentioning the absolute CO2 footprint of a products with which consumers do have any comparison point for. From a different perspective, social norms also have a great potential to influence our consumption behavior. Therefore, soft policies that enhance the public debate around sustainability – through advertisement or information tools for example – can be an important driver for changing these social norms and spurring long term behavior change. Tourism, buildings and food systems are characterized by rapid growth in emission levels and some consumer information tools are more effective than others, depending on the sector. “While certifications addressing personal health aspects are effective in the food sector and have a significant influence on behavior, certification tools in the tourism sector have limited importance for tourist’s decision making. If we want to have effective labels, we should combine information on quality aspects with the information on carbon emissions!”
3. Mi Codigo Verde, a consumer platform on product sustainability
Next, Antonia Biggs Fuenzalida (Lead Sustainable Consumption and Production / Circular Economy at Fundación Chile) introduced the sustainable consumption platform Mi Código Verde and explained that Chilean consumers are increasingly interested in sustainability. According to a study, 32 percent of people support sustainability whereas 60 percent claim that they don’t know much about it but are open to the subject. However, there is still a lack of information and supply when it comes to sustainable products and services – and that people sometimes simply don’t trust what companies say about the sustainability of their products. For this reason, the platform provides information on environmental and social attributes of products, such as animal welfare, social welfare, impact on biodiversity, energy and much more! “So, let’s say you want to buy eggs that have a better environmental and social impact, you can go to the platform and find descriptions, certifications and attributes of the goods and thus learn more about its social and environmental sustainability. Today, the platform provides clear and comparable information on a total of 135 products that are organized in 19 categories and we are planning to partner up with new brands and companies in the future!”. Lastly, it was inspiring to hear that there has been an increase in sustainable online consumption in Chile (and Latin American overall) due to the new COVID-19 context.
4. Product and lifestyle calculators
Our fifth panelist, Vanessa Timmer (Executive Director, One Earth; Beacon for Sustainable Living) introduced the initiative called Beacon for Sustainable Living that supports those leading the way in this field by identifying creative strategies and overlooked approaches to live well within our ecological limits. “Our ecological footprint refers to the area of land and marine habitat we use to meet our material needs, and on a global level we see that we are actually in ecological overshoot, meaning that we are using up more resources and accumulating carbon dioxide faster than the Earth can sustain!” Within this context, footprint calculators can help us to unpack what this means on a personal level and support people in taking action- and there is a great popularity and abundance of these calculators out there! But it is important to keep in mind that calculators alone won’t work on their own, they need to be linked with campaigns. So, to design impactful footprint programs and campaigns, the Beacon gives some recommendations for the ‘next edge of design’: Be stakeholder focused– there is not one single lifestyle! Tailor for diversity and inclusivity and connect individuals to community. Lastly, clarify how actions lead to large impacts and link individual actions to systems changes of government policy, businesses, media and advertisement.
5. Consumer insights
Helio Mattar (President and CEO, Akatu Institute) talked about some of the recent work that the Akatu Institute has been doing around conscious consumption, “that is consumption with better impact on the environment, the economy, the society and individuals to guarantee enough for all and forever. Our mission is to contribute to the accelerated transition towards sustainable lifestyles in a well-being society through sustainable modes of production and consumption!” Insights from the ‘GlobeScan Healthy and Sustainable Living 2019 Survey’ show that consumers can be classified into three different groups: ‘Aspirational’ who like shopping but seek products from bands committed to social and environmental values; ‘Advocates’ who don’t like to shop that much and preferably buy products from brands that are highly committed to social and environmental sustainability; and ‘Practical’s’ who choose products based on quality and price criteria. Interestingly, the first two groups make up 54 percent of world consumers – and this is why we need consistent, reliable and easily accessible information on product sustainability so that all the consumers keen on making better decisions can actually do so! Moreover, the study suggests that health and well-being are key drivers for choosing more sustainable and healthier lifestyles. However, the lack of government and business support to provide available and affordable products remains the main barrier for consumers to make more sustainable lifestyle decisions.
6. Effective communication to engage consumers
Lastly, Claire Kneller (Head of International Food Programme, WRAP) spoke about some strategies to reduce food waste .“WRAP works to help change consumers’ behavior by changing the products, environment and packaging of the good they consume, and by communicating with them directly, for instance, on how to best store food once they get home from the grocery store.” Food waste is a huge problem as one third of the food produced globally goes to waste and evidence suggests that half of it is wasted from our homes! So the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign – one of the organization’s most well-established campaigns on food – is about giving people simple and practical tips on how to waste less food at home. Recent data indicates that the global pandemic impacted positively on the way people engage with their food. In the UK, one third of the population started saving leftovers, almost half checked the cupboards and fridge before shopping, and almost 90 percent now agree that food waste is an important issue. If you want to waste less food at home, here are three simple tips: 1. Learn to love your freezer - you can even freeze cheese, milk and leftover wine!; 2. Use up your leftovers; 3. Set your fridge at 5 degrees or less – this has a huge impact on how long your food stays fresh! See www.lovefoodhatewaste.com for more ideas.
To find out more check out the following links:
- Sustainable Lifestyles: Options and Opportunities: This publication provides a sample of opportunities that can be tailored and applied at the city level to introduce and promote more sustainable lifestyles
- Anatomy of Action: An evidence-based social media tool kit that translates science into what people can do in their daily lives.
- Fostering and Communicating Sustainable Lifestyles: Principles and Emerging Practices: This UN Environment report sets out a four-step strategy roadmap for fostering and communicating sustainable lifestyles, illustrated by 16 initiatives and campaigns from around the world.
- Consumer Information for Sustainable Consumption and Production
- Consumer Information Tools and Climate Change: This report details how the use of consumer information tools can support greenhouse gas emission reductions in three industry sectors: tourism, buildings and food.
- Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information: The Guidelines offer value chain and public sector professionals clear guidance on making effective, trustworthy claims to consumers, on product-related sustainability information. They are applicable to all regions and companies of all sizes.
- Mi Codigo Verde
- Beacon for sustainable living
- Akatu Institute
- Love Food Hate Waste campaign
Please find the webinar PPT here.