Sustainability: Why it is so difficult to consume sustainably

Classifieds CEO
Why it is so difficult to consume sustainably

Among other things, a large number of different environmental labels make it difficult for consumers to consume sustainably

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High prices, a variety of different labels and ever new laws: all of this means that people find it difficult to live sustainably, comments Kleinanzeigen CEO Paul Heimann.

Almost everyone has caught themselves saying this: there is actually a desire to live more sustainably. But then it will be a plane ride instead of a train ride, a schnitzel instead of a vegetable stir-fry or an item from a discount brand – and not an organic product. There is a technical term for this phenomenon: Attitude Behavior Gap. It describes the discrepancy between consumers’ attitudes towards a topic – and their actual behavior.

This discrepancy is particularly pronounced in Germany. This is shown by the circular economy study of classified ads. In it, researchers from the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy calculates that even two thirds (65 percent) of people with a positive environmental attitude only occasionally, rarely or never behave in an environmentally conscious manner. The reason for this is that even in everyday life it is often difficult for them to follow sustainable recommendations and alternatives.

Paul Heimann has been CEO of Classifieds since June 2021

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According to the survey, more than half of those surveyed (52 percent) have difficulty assessing whether sustainability information is trustworthy. And almost as many (45 percent) find it difficult to find out whether a product was produced sustainably. However, both are particularly important to those who want to pay attention to sustainability when consuming.

This uncertainty is no coincidence. Anyone who wants to consume more sustainably actually faces a multitude of hurdles. The first already shows the price table. Sustainable products cost on average 75 to 85 percent more than conventional ones. This is what management consultancy Kearney calculated. In times of inflation and rising prices, consumers are less willing to spend more money on sustainable products. According to Monitor Deloitte, their share has more than halved in 2022 compared to 2021. Money is a factor.

Time is a factor

Consumers face the next hurdle when they want to identify which items are sustainable – and which are not. A new law here, a new environmental label there. Even experts find it difficult to keep up. Especially in retail. With the The EU energy label for electrical appliances, the organic seal for food, the EU Ecolabel and the Blue Angel for various everyday products as well as the Green Button for clothing, the Federal Environment Agency recommends five labels for this industry alone. Dealing with all these labels takes a lot of time. And time is also a factor.

The legislature is also heavily involved. The members of the EU Parliament and the EU member states have agreed on new product specifications. Among other things, they want to ban those eco-labels on products that are only used for advertising. The aim is to make so-called greenwashing, with which companies give themselves a green image even though their products do not meet recognized sustainability requirements, more difficult. Requirements that can be found in laws such as the Circular Economy Act. This law was passed in 2012, but new regulations will come into force from 2024. This means: Pay attention to innovations again, inform again, read again. The willingness to deal with constantly changing conditions is one factor.

The willingness is there – what is missing is orientation

High prices, a multitude of different labels and ever new laws: all of this means that people find it difficult to live sustainably. Even those with a positive environmental attitude. Anyone who wants to make trade more sustainable would actually have to do the opposite – and simplify sustainable consumption. This requires incentives and clear rules instead of ever new laws and seals. Financial incentives such as the promotion of sustainable products, which leads to price discounts. Or stronger incentives to buy used items, because using what you already have is inherently sustainable. Rules and laws should serve as a guide for consumers – and not confuse them. For example, a uniform eco-label for different product groups would be much easier to penetrate than five different ones.

Ultimately, it should not fail because of the willingness of consumers. A look at the circular economy study also shows that this is quite large. Almost two thirds of those surveyed (60 percent) stated that sustainability was important to them. For 44 percent, it has even become more important over the past two years. In addition, extreme weather (41 percent) as well as the presence of the topic in the media (29 percent) have led people to change their behavior in favor of the environment. However, many also see politics (67 percent) and business (74 percent) as having a duty to do more. A first step should be to finally ensure clear rules.

Note: This article first appeared on “Capital“.

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