Empowering the sustainable consumer online

Consumers want to be more sustainable - and they will need to be if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. Sixty-two percent of consumers globally say they are willing to change their purchasing habits. In the minds of the next generation of consumers especially, sustainable choices are not just the right thing to do, but the thing you want to do. 

Real-world action, however, is trailing. Even for the most concerned consumers, the gap between intention and action remains high - and may even be widening. One of the biggest barriers consumers face is a lack of clear and reliable information on the sustainability impacts of products. Sustainability claims are everywhere in today's marketplace, but they are often too ambiguous, confusing or even misleading. This has corroded consumer trust, preventing sustainable products from reaching the consumers who want them. 

These challenges are exacerbated and complicated in e-commerce. We think and behave differently in online environments. We are in many ways more vulnerable to manipulation. But the unique opportunities offered by online environments are arguably even more significant. There is scope for e-commerce actors to deliver information in innovative ways that educate and motivate as well as inform, supporting sustainable choice-making at scale whilst building consumer trust and understanding. 

Our work in this area

In 2022, Consumers International led a new global research project - GreEnCommerce - to grasp this opportunity for change. This involved the below core components - 

  • Understanding the issues. We carried out a policy review across eight different jurisdictions and in-depth stakeholder consultations to map the state of play and emerging trends. 
  • Building bridges through dialogue. We convened government, business, and civil society leaders at an associated event of Stockholm+50 to discuss five global priorities for policy-makers to support reliable sustainability information provision. 
  • Leading global networks. Together with the German and Indonesian governments, we co-lead the UN One Planet network’s Consumer Information Programme, a multi-stakeholder coalition that works to improve the product sustainability information received by consumers worldwide.
  • Highlighting opportunities for action. Our Action Agenda highlights how e-commerce actors can make transparent and sustainable online shopping a reality.   

CLEARING THE CONSUMER INFORMATION FOG

The current muddle of overlapping or competing information schemes, business innovations, and policy initiatives makes it hard for stakeholders to coalesce around impactful joint action. The landscape of sustainability information is changing, with an increasing profusion of labelling schemes, the emergence of new types of quantitative disclosure, and the serious and growing phenomenon of misleading self-declared claims. Decision-makers need to be able to respond to these changes in a strategic way that does not conflict with or duplicate other efforts.

Our first headline report, ‘The State of Sustainability Information’, helps to clear the fog. It presents a new method to categorise information schemes and addresses the challenging trade-offs faced by information providers. It outlines three key trends and emerging policy responses from a global perspective, offering a solutions framework for each.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

GRASPING THE E-COMMERCE OPPORTUNITY  

The growth of e-commerce is reshaping the way we consume globally. This poses both risk and opportunity for sustainability. The online information environment, with its scale, avenues for co-creation and personalisation, and commercialisation, could push consumers towards more unnecessary and unsustainable purchases. But with the right interventions, e-commerce players can leverage these unique aspects to empower better informed, more sustainable consumption at scale.  

Our second headline report, Action Agenda: Informing sustainable consumer choices in e-commerce establishes the key steps e-commerce players can take to avoid the risks and build on the opportunities of the online environment for sustainable consumption.  

These are to:  

  1. Collaborate to create data commons for product sustainability  
  2. Work with third-party sellers and manufacturers to standardise, streamline, and verify sustainability information
  3. Plan interventions to shift consumer behaviours online  

DOWNLOAD THE ACTION AGENDA

JOINING UP POLICY RESPONSES

The project uncovered a patchwork of policy approaches globally. Too often, sustainability information falls through the cracks between consumer, environmental, and digital policymaking agendas.  

Our Policy Action Framework: Improving Product Sustainability Information in E-Commerce produced with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), gives policymakers a holistic overview of the different ways they can promote sustainable consumption through information, with a special focus on online environments. A framework of five core and three supporting actions is proposed and illustrated with examples of where policymakers are currently making progress globally. 

DOWNLOAD THE FRAMEWORK

OUR PARTNERS AND SUPPORTERS

The GreEnCommerce project was led by Consumers International, supported by Amazon, and implemented in partnership with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The project convened a global, multi-stakeholder group to provide insights and inputs, counting over 100 high-level and expert representatives of multilateral agencies, policymakers, consumer protection authorities, civil society actors, labelling bodies, and e-commerce platforms. Download the State of Sustainability Information for the full list of supporting partners.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT

Our recommendations are an invitation to connect, learn, and build together with leaders from all stakeholder types who want a fair, safe, and sustainable marketplace for all consumers. Fixing the sustainability information landscape cannot be achieved by any one organisation. It requires a whole movement – one that is connected, innovative, mobilised, and radically multi-stakeholder.

Inclusive, cross-cutting solutions need to be on the table and advanced by decision-makers at the highest international levels – from OECD to the G20 through to COP28 and beyond.

Contact us to explore collaboration and join the movement.

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