An increasing number of Austrian households are putting emphasis on sustainable consumption. However, a recent AK study shows that in reality consumers encounter problems again and again. Making sustainable consumption suitable for daily use, requires improved framework conditions – both at national and EU level.
The necessity of a social and environmental reorientation of our economic system is being increasingly recognised by policymakers. Hence, the Green Deal at European level as well as the binding target of climate neutrality by 2040 at Austrian level are important political projects. However, in general, little attention is being paid to the aspect of actual consumer behaviour, which is precisely the main focus of the current AK study on sustainable consumption.
On the one hand, the AK study examines the extension of sustainable consumption practices in Austrian households including socio-demographic segmentation, whilst documenting frustrations by consumers in connection with sustainable consumption. The study has been based on the Austria-wide consumption monitor survey of AK and Vienna University, for which over 1,000 consumers were surveyed between January 2019 and March 2020.
The AK study shows that sensitivity to sustainable consumption is particularly strong when it comes to food shopping. The targeted purchase of regional food products is widespread (65 %) and almost every second customer buys organic or Fairtrade products. A third of Austrian consumers repeatedly engage in political consumption, i.e. they regularly boycott or buycott (targeted buying). A third of consumers declares to have already changed their own travel behaviour as a result of the climate debate, most frequently by reducing or refraining from air travel.
In the area of large domestic appliances, the majority of consumers pay attention to sustainable appliance characteristics, such as reparability, environmentally friendly manufacture, low consumption, etc., when making purchasing decisions. There is also a high level of support for consumer policy measures and awareness of structural problems, such as greenwashing and difficult to impossible repairs, which stand in the way of sustainable consumption practices. In connection with sustainable consumption, many of the consumers surveyed were particularly annoyed by politicians failing to take responsibility, the lack of transparency regarding labelling and the current excessive burden placed on consumers by greenwashing & co.
From the AK’ point of view, these results show that increasingly more consumers are making an effort to consume sustainably. However, too often their efforts are thwarted due to the lack of appropriate framework conditions, such as missing true-cost pricing and a poor choice of sustainable alternatives. Hence, a suitable infrastructure for sustainable consumption is required. The AK therefore calls for legal provisions, especially at European level, to facilitate sustainable consumption. This includes among other:
- Clear labelling of sustainability as well as criteria for quality seals, to make purchase decisions easier for consumers.
- Improved protection against greenwashing: clear rules are needed to reduce the misuse of sustainability promises as a pure marketing tool. One option would be a central database for green claims, that defines terms relevant to advertising such as “CO2 neutral” or “climate friendly”.
- A strong regulation on due diligence: At national, European and international level, companies must be obliged to comply with environmental standards and human rights alongside their global supply chains. The European Commission has presented its long awaited proposal earlier this week.
- Improving the framework conditions for repairs, for example with regard to the availability of spare parts, a repair-friendly product design, access to construction and repair manuals as well as independent repair providers.
- Extending the warrant period from currently two to at least five years in case of long-life product groups.
AK Vienna: Study on Sustainable consumption (german only)
A&W Blog: Sustainable consumption fit for everydays life (german only)