Consumers can play a key role in creating demand for ‘circular’ goods and services — European Environment Agency

Policies that promote “circular” consumer decisions are more effective if designed with consideration of factors that shape individual behavior, says new EEA briefing’Enable consumers to make choices for a circular economy‘. The briefing examines how policies can enable more circular economy-friendly consumer behavior by understanding the factors that influence it.

Consumers and businesses influence product demand. Producers not only respond to consumer demand but also shape it through the products offered and the way the products are marketed. According to the EEA briefing, consumer choices shape the decisions made by actors upstream, such as product designers, and downstream, such as recyclers, in product supply chains.

Although economic factors are key, other factors also shape consumer choices

Economic factors, such as product price, are often the most important in consumer decision-making, while the importance of other factors is less clear. Other factors that come into play include the extent to which the products available meet consumer needs, information available to consumers, social factorssuch as respecting social norms, community values ​​and examples from role models, and individual preferences and beliefs linked, for example, to prestige, brand loyalty or personal values. Traditionally, policies have focused on informing consumers (such as eco-labels) and, to a lesser extent, making circular alternatives more economically attractive.

There are opportunities to explore a range of future policy options at different levels of governance, including tax breaks and subsidieslegally binding regulations, avoiding greenwashing, making circular options more convenient and using ecolabels and measures targeting consumers to, for example, strengthen emotional attachment to products.

The European Union has already taken steps to put in place measures to make circular economy choices more attractive and convenient for consumers. For example, the European Commission‘s sustainable products initiative, which focuses on providing information through labeling and product passports, and placing product requirements focused on sustainability and recyclability, among others. This initiative recognizes the key role of consumers in the establishment of a circular economy and should enable an acceleration of circularity in the EU economy.

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