| ASCEE: Assessing the potential of various instruments for sustainable consumption practices and greening of the market

Project overview

Beginning in February 2007 and ending in autumn 2008, ASCEE was a research specific support action for policy in the Scientific Support to Policies programme of the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for Research. The project was undertaken by the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (Germany) – the coordinator, the Institute for European Studies (Belgium) and the National Institute for Consumer Research (Norway). The aim was to contribute to policy development; to identify promising innovative approaches and tools to foster sustainable consumption; and to present some strategic recommendations on how to progress in this arena. Its scientific report has been published recently and can be downloaded here. In addition, the project partners released a policy paper of 10 pages, which is available here.

The effectiveness of sustainable consumption policies

According to the authors, sustainable consumption policies should be differentiated according to their contribution to changing consumer behaviour. Looking at current policy developments in Europe, three major ways can be distinguished to foster sustainable consumption patterns: raising consumer awareness, making sustainable consumption easy, and greening markets. The more government policies can grasp these three dimensions, the larger their overall impact will be. New ideas and approaches, such as the UK Red/Green Calculator, the Dutch Green Funds Scheme or the international Topten initiative, were discussed and partly implemented to strengthen sustainable consumption. ASCEE found some elements to be essential for the design of sustainable consumption policies, namely:

  • a) mix of regulatory and voluntary policy approaches
  • b) importance of collective action
  • c) adaptability and flexibility of instruments
  • d) use of a sound evidence base also covering social science data
  • e) need for an increased consideration of social aspects of sustainability.

The authors formulated messages for policy-makers: in particular they encourage them to understand sustainable consumption as a policy field in its own right and thoroughly consider the policy requirements derived from modern consumption patterns. They should take a flexible role in policy formulation and implementation, and design a sufficiently institutionalised policy based on multi-stakeholder involvement; and develop policy instruments with high built-in adaptability (in particular in areas of rapid technological progress) with a sense of community and social feedback, based on an appropriate evidence base and increasingly integrating issues of social sustainability. Finally, the authors conclude that it is beneficial for policy-makers to systematically assess and monitor the impacts of sustainable consumption policies and create more interactive networks for the dissemination of innovative approaches among EU Member States.