© CC-BY-NC-ND Steven Christenson

The quest for making consumption and production patterns more sustainable has already a long history. From extensive insight on Integrated Product Policy, Sustainable Consumption and Sustainable Transitions, it is clear that simple policy approaches in support of sustainable consumption may not work. Consumers are often not as sovereign as thought, since their behaviour is shaped by a factors they cannot influence. Many sustainable business initiatives have died out in silence due to a lack of reward in the market, or because the novel, sustainable business models did not lead to sufficient consumer satisfaction. And direct interventions like regulation or financial instruments sometimes are successful, but they can also appear to be too crude, or even inadequate, when the sustainability problem is caused by ‘lock-in’ problems or other market failures. Given the policy interest in sustainable consumption, and the complexity of realising it, there is obviously a great demand for insight into what policy instruments are best suited to support a development towards more sustainable consumption. Under the EU’s 6th Framework Programme, therefore a call was launched on the topic of the ‘effectiveness of policy instruments for SCP’. This report forms the result of a successful response to this call.

The Project

The project was performed by TNO (Netherlands),(IIIEE) (Sweden) and SERI. It started with an inventory and analysis of the effectiveness of policy instruments, voluntary business initiatives and more systemic approaches to realise SCP. The first two are the current prevailing approaches towards realising SCP, where at the same time it is more and more acknowledged that changes to more sustainable systems of consumption and production need a systemic perspective too. In a next step the partners carried out a gap analysis, focusing on effectiveness gaps (how instruments and approaches can be applied more effectively, alone or in combination), sectoral and geographical gaps (successful approaches are applied in some sectors or countries, rather than all), and white spots (new instruments and approaches that seem necessary but are not applied at all). Based on the insights gained the following recommendations were given.

The Action Plans

When making SCP programmes, strategies or action plans, four elements can be observed as crucial for success: 

  • Adequate stakeholder involvement, impact on decision-making
  • Development of clear multi-dimensional sustainability targets
  • Clear agreements on implementation steps to be taken by different agents, and
  • Implementation control, success monitoring and feedback loops