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Improving Nordic policymaking by dispelling myths on sustainable consumption

image of Improving Nordic policymaking by dispelling myths on sustainable consumption

As Nordic countries have an ambition to be sustainability leaders, enabling sustainable consumption and lifestyles with efficient policies is an important part of reaching this goal. Research demonstrates that evidence from behavioural and social science is not routinely incorporated into policy design. Consequently, some persistent misconceptions – myths – about consumer behaviour have perpetuated in the mainstream discourse, especially in policy circles. The goal of this study is to dispel myths that thwart sustainability by bringing forward existing evidence on consumer behaviour to aid the development of efficient policies in Nordic countries. A meta-analysis of the existing international research on consumer behaviour from psychology, sociology, behavioural economics, policy and anthropology was conducted. The results demonstrate that it is unrealistic to expect a sustainable society to materialise from current political strate gies. The changes needed are significant, and this study shows that policy makers need to create the ”politics of possibility”towards sustainability by using the plethora of existing and innovative strategies and tools synergistically.

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Summary

Despite 20 years of policymaking on sustainable consumption (UNCED 1992), levels of material consumption and environmental impacts continue to increase in Nordic countries and Europe. As Nordic countries have an ambition to be sustainability leaders, enabling and facilitating sustainable consumption and lifestyles with efficient policies is an important part of the societal effort to reduce resource use and environmental impacts. Although a large share of environmental impacts depends on consumption patterns, research demonstrates that evidence from behavioural and social science is not routinely incorporated into policy design. Consequently, some persistent misconceptions – myths – about consumer behaviour have perpetuated in the mainstream discourse on sustainable consumption, especially in policy circles. Holding on to these myths encourages policy makers to place the main focus on technological innovation aiming at production and product efficiency, leaving social innovation, alternative value-creation models and sufficient consumption without much needed support.

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