EEA briefing examines consumer role in the circular economy

24 May 2022

Article: 56/2010

On 17 May 2022, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a briefing, which finds that consumers play a key role in raising demand for goods and services that have adopted circular economy principles, despite the influence of companies in shaping the demand for products. 

The briefing finds that consumers adopting circular economy principles are most effective if they are designed by addressing factors shaping individual behaviour, and the briefing examines how policies can enable more circular-economy friendly consumer behaviour, by understanding the factors that influence it. 

Consumers and companies both influence demand for products. Producers not only respond to but also shape consumer demand through the products offered and how the products are marketed. Consumer choices shape decisions made by actors upstream, such as product designers, and downstream, such as recyclers, in product supply chains, according to the EEA briefing. 

Economic factors, like the price of products, are often the most important in consumer decision-making, while the importance of the other factors is less clear. Other factors that come into play include to what extent the available products meet consumer needs, the information available to consumers, social factors, such as adherence to social norms, community values and examples from role models, and individual preferences and beliefs related to, for instance, prestige, brand loyalty or personal values. Traditionally, policies have aimed to give consumers information, such as eco-labels, and to a lesser extent, to make circular alternatives more economically attractive. 

The briefing finds that there are opportunities to explore a range of future policy options across different governance levels, including tax breaks and subsidies, legally binding regulations, avoiding greenwashing, making circular options more convenient, and using eco-labels and measures targeting consumers to, for instance, enhance emotional attachment to products. 

The EU has already put in place measures to make circular economy-friendly choices more attractive and convenient for consumers, such as the European Commission's sustainable products initiative, which focuses on providing information through labelling and product passports, and placing product requirements focusing on durability and recyclability, among others. This initiative recognises the key role of consumers in establishing a circular economy and is expected to enable an acceleration of circularity in the EU economy. 

Source: EEA, 17 May 2022