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Portfolio of research engaging with citizens

Science communication and public perception

Cultivating caring consumers

Background description

We are all consumers in today’s society: of the food we eat to live, of the electricity we use to stay warm, and of the petrol we use to power our cars and more. Further, consumption drives innovation, industry and economic growth – it is vital for our well-being. However, the way we consume has a darker side to it. Rising demand for agricultural products leads to massive deforestation, pressure on water resources and reduced biodiversity in developing countries. Further, the fossil fuels we use are both finite and polluting. This means that we are facing unsustainable patterns of consumption in our homes, cities and workplaces. We need to move to sustainable consumption patterns that minimise the use of natural resources and avoid waste and pollution. This requires research to reveal the changes to products, industrial processes and lifestyles that will reduce our ‘ecological footprint’.

Profile

Achieving sustainable consumption requires the support of consumers, so they must be aware of the problems and of the choices they face. The European Commission funds projects that can help consumers, such as individuals, municipalities and industry, to understand these issues. The Fescola project investigated the environmental impact of individual household consumption patterns, including factors such as heating, food preparation, holiday flights and car ownership. The EMUDE project studies ‘creative communities’ which are responses from groups of stakeholders to unsustainable consumption; organic and farmers’ markets, car-sharing and fair trade initiatives are examples of these. SCORE! is an EU-funded Coordinated Action using workshops and conferences to spread good practice on sustainable consumption among target groups such as producers and consumers. It also coordinates the dispersed groups around Europe working in this field and cooperates with the United Nations Environment Programme activities.

Full project title: Feasibility and scope of life-cycle approaches to sustainable consumption
Project acronym: Fescola
Project coordinator: Norges Teknisk – Naturvitenskapelige Universitet, Norway
Duration: 1 year
Full project title: Emerging users demands for sustainable solutions
Project acronym: EMUDE
Project coordinator: Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Duration: 2 years
Full project title: Sustainable Consumption Research Exchanges
Project acronym: SCORE!
Project coordinator: TNO Built Environment and Geosciences, Delft, NL
Duration: 4 years

Science in society significance

Sustainable consumption can be promoted in several ways. Making biofuels available and environment-friendly building regulations are examples of a top-down approach. However, it is also important to persuade consumers to adapt their lifestyles, to consume in ways that use less energy, cause less pollution and favour the environment worldwide. This requires more public awareness of the consequences of unsustainable consumption and what can be done about it. This bottom-up approach allows individual citizens to choose a sustainable consumption lifestyle. EU-funded research in this field is dedicated to defining these choices at the level of individuals, municipalities and the workplace – then making this information available to Europe’s citizens, authorities and businesses. It is important because we live in market economies where consumers of all types can choose. And they can only opt for sustainable consumption if they know why this is needed and how it can be achieved.

Expected results/outcomes

  • Studies on unsustainable consumption patterns at the level of individual consumers, households, urban environments and industries;
  • Identification of the main contributors to unsustainable consumption over the whole lifecycle of a product/service;
  • Identification of the options for sustainable consumption and the lifestyle changes needed;
  • Identification of the target groups for public awareness initiatives, including consumers, decision-makers and producers;
  • Improved coordination between research groups and sustainable consumption initiatives across Europe and internationally;
  • Implementation and coordination of public awareness events across Europe.

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