BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Science/Nature  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 19:32 GMT
Psyching up the green consumer
Cars, Eyewire
Everyone wants their own bit of Earth

The United Nations is turning to social science in its quest to steer the world towards greener lifestyles.

The UN Environment Programme (Unep) is working with psychologists and behavioural scientists to understand what makes consumers tick.

We need to look again at how we enlist the public to reduce pollution

Dr Klaus Toepfer, Unep
It thinks there is little benefit in making people feel guilty about the way they live. It wants instead to make sustainable living something consumers will increasingly desire.

Unep officials disclosed their new approach to delegates to the organisation's governing council, meeting here from 3 to 7 February.

They define sustainable consumption as "enjoying a good quality of life while consuming fewer natural resources and polluting less".

But they say studies show only 5% of people in developed countries have chosen to live sustainably.

Prevention better than cure

Dr Klaus Toepfer, Unep's executive director, said: "Messages from governments exhorting people to drive their cars less or admonishing them for buying products that cause environmental damage appear not to be working.

"People are simply not listening. Making people feel guilty about their lifestyles and purchasing habits is achieving only limited success.

"So we need to look again at how we enlist the public to reduce pollution and live in ways that cause minimal environmental damage."

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel is director of Unep's division of technology, industry and economics (Unep/DTIE).

She told BBC News Online: "We've said for some time in Unep that we should try to prevent trouble, not just remedy it. That's what this is about - it's economically, socially and environmentally viable, so it's win-win-win."

Buy one, get one free

In November 2002, Unep and the Japanese Government hosted a workshop on sustainable consumption in the Austrian capital, Vienna, organised by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

It was attended by social scientists from Japan, Europe and the US, and Unep is planning two more in March 2003, in Paris and Tokyo.

Bas de Leeuw of Unep/DTIE told BBC News Online: "We've asked the people coming to Paris for specific advice.

Buses, BBC
Consumers want real choice
"Traditionally we've looked at the impact on the environment of different economic sectors, and tried to work from there to sustainability.

"Now we want to change to what we're calling a function-based approach, looking at human needs - for food, shelter and mobility, for example - then seeing how to meet those needs more sustainably.

"We hope the behavioural scientists will help us there. There are bound to be winners and losers from this.

"The losers will be those who won't work with the idea of sustainable consumption. The winners will be those who identify core needs and rethink what they do. They'll realise it's another way of making money."

Examples Unep gives of positive ways to influence consumers include a car manufacturer which in the UK provides a mountain bike with every car it sells, urging buyers to use the bike for short journeys.

And European detergent makers tell consumers to switch to low-temperature washing liquids and powders, not just to save energy but because it is good for their clothes.

In a similar UK initiative, the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey is undertaking "a critical review of different theoretical conceptions of consumer behaviour".

See also:

04 Sep 02 | Africa
30 Aug 02 | Americas
24 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Science/Nature stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes