The direct environmental impact of private household consumption in industrialized countries is estimated to be 30-40% of the overall impact, the indirect impact (incl. production, transportation, etc.) is even higher.
Hence, private consumption is an important part of the environmental issue.
Usually, Germans are seen as pathfinders in terms of environmental consciousness and eco-friendly behaviours. Taking a closer look at multinational studies, we see that German consumers are more aware of e.g. climate chance and other environmental issues and their impacts. But when it comes to concrete environmental-friendly behaviour, e.g. the willingness to pay more for energy-efficient products etc., Germans are hardly better than the average.
These findings are clearly contradicting the wide-spread assumption, that people with high ecological awareness are likely to also behave in eco-friendly ways.
Indeed, a number of studies show that there is only a moderate correlation between environment-related attitudes and behaviours.
(–> awareness/ attitudes only explaining about 10% of the variance in behaviours)
Nevertheless, environmental awareness and eco-friendly attitudes are important: They form the public opinion and thus influence political and economic decision makers towards activities and measures which help protect the environment.
After Fukushima, we saw an outcry against atomic energy in the German public which finally resulted in the political decision towards the nuclear power phase-out.
As private households have such an important impact on the environment, social research now tries to understand the situational conditions and circumstances under which environmental awareness would lead to the selection of more eco-friendly consumption alternatives.
Not very surprisingly, consumers are more likely to act according to their environmental awareness the lower the costs of eco-friendly consumption options are. Please note that those costs not only include higher purchase prices, they also refer to more information needs, more time efforts due to longer ways to the next organic supermarket etc. and not least: lack of social prestige when deciding for a fuel-efficient car.
It is hence essential to reduce costs and barriers of eco-friendly consumption options in order to stimulate comsumption patterns which are in line with the comparable high environmental awareness of German consumers.
Important steps in this direction are (IMHO):
- reliable eco labels which help reduce information needs
- availability of eco-friendly products, e.g. in supermarkets
- extension of public transport, car-sharing, cycle-sharing, etc.
- the offering of energy-efficient products and services at reasonable prices
- the subsidising of alternative sources of energy also for private households, etc.
But those measures are far from being perfect and all-embracing. They are only the beginning of a longer development.