Research project for the German Federal Environment Agency regarding encouragement of sustainable consumption Gentle nudges towards sustainable consumption

Project period:
January 2015 - August 2016

Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt)

Project partners:
Prof. Dr. Lucia Reisch (Copenhagen Business School),
Prof. Dr. Cass Sunstein (Harvard Law School),
Prof. Dr. Hans-W. Micklitz (Europäisches Hochschulinstitut),
Dr. Jan Rosenow und Daniel Forster (Ricardo-AEA)

In order to deter ongoing climate change, global warming should be limited to a maximum of two degrees Celsius by the year 2050. Since individual consumption contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions in Germany, changes in consumer behavior are vital to achieve this objective. Experience shows that "classical" approaches to environmental consumer policy (such as prohibitions, energy efficiency requirements or consumer information) are not sufficient to promote sustainable consumption.

Against this background, ConPolicy, as commissioned by the German Federal Environment Agency, analyzed the potentials of the "nudge" approach in the promotion of sustainable consumption patterns. The project was being implemented in cooperation with Prof Dr Lucia Reisch (Copenhagen Business School / ZU Friedrichshafen), Prof Dr Cass Sunstein (Harvard Law School), Prof Dr Hans-W. Micklitz (European University Institute) and Ricardo-AEA.

In the course of the project, four work packages were addressed:

1.     Situating the nudge approach in ecological consumer policy and analyzing examples of its application

2.     Developing concrete nudges to promote sustainable consumption

3.     Reality-checking the identified measures at a stakeholder workshop conducted in the German Federal Ministry for the Environment

4.     Refining the measures and deducing concrete guidance

ConPolicy was responsible for the project management and the best practice analyzes as well as (together with the project partners) for the development of concrete measures and guidance.

From 371 national and international nudges in total, five were selected based on different selection criteria (e.g., legal fit, good cost-benefit ratio, consumer acceptance) and their implementation was recommended. These five are:

1.     Consumer-feedback through energy savings accounts

2.     A feedback tool to make hot water consumption during showers visible

3.     Free public transport tickets to reduce hurdles to use public transport

4.     Partitioned shopping carts to support sustainable shopping behavior

5.     Changing the choice architecture of buffets to reduce unsustainable food consumption

A detailed description of measures and findings can be found in the final report.

Project of

Christian Thorun

Prof. Dr. Christian Thorun Managing Director

+49 (0)30 259369-01

Jana Diels

Project Manager Consumer Research

+49 (0)30 259369-02

Max Vetter

Dr. Max Vetter Project Manager Consumer Research

+49 (0)30 259369-03