Changing consumer behaviour to sustainability

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Concerns about the sustainability of natural resources are rising, prompting policymakers and companies to encourage consumers to think green. Labelling is one way of doing this, but consumer groups advise against confronting shoppers with too much information and warn that green claims aren't always independently verified.

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Overview

The European Commission wants to convince consumers that making an effort to protect the environment can benefit their pockets as well as the planet, for example, by reducing food waste or buying home appliances that use less power and water.

In May 2012, the EU executive tabled recommendations on consumer empowerment in the EU, including proposals to improve awareness of sustainable purchasing.

Private housing and transport have also been singled out as areas where consumers can help to protect the environment. Consumers can contribute by insulating their homes, replacing older appliances with more efficient models, or digging deeper into their pockets to invest in solar heating and other renewable options.

On the road, they can exchange fuel-powered cars for hybrid and electric vehicles - or walk and cycle more.

But with growing numbers of companies touting a wide variety of green claims, consumer groups warn that it is becoming increasingly difficult to know who or what to trust.

Economic and job concerns, meanwhile, may make consumers think twice about spending more up-front for 'greener' goods despite the potential for longer-term payoff.

More generally, some consumer advocates warn that consumers should not be expected to take all the responsibility as they may lack the time or the motivation to check all the information made available to them.

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