Household consumption patterns and behaviour have a profound effect on stocks of natural resources and the quality of the environment. The importance of taking the "demand side" into account is a key lesson arising from the OECD’s Green Growth Strategy ( www.oecd.org/greengrowth). OECD governments have introduced a wide variety of measures to encourage people to take environmental impacts into account in their purchases and practices. Yet, the consequences of such policy measures on household decision-making are not always well understood.
This book is a product of the Working Party on National Environmental Policies (now known as the Working Party on Integrating Environmental and Economic Policies), a group under the OECD’s Environmental Policy Committee (EPOC). The delegates provided valuable direction, comments and suggestions.
Household consumption patterns and behaviour have a profound effect on stocks of natural resources and the quality of the environment. As a consequence, governments have introduced a wide variety of measures to encourage people to take environmental impacts into account in their purchases and practices. Recent initiatives include the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs, the introduction of energy performance labels for homes, and the provision of tax incentives to purchase alternative-fuelled vehicles.
Policies, Environmental Norms and Household Characteristics
Projections indicate that households’ impacts on the environment are likely to increase in the future. As governments develop environmental policies to promote greener behaviour, the OECD survey offers insight into what affects our decisions and what really works in five areas: water use, energy use, personal transport choices, organic food consumption, and waste generation and recycling. Before turning to the presentation of the main results, this introductory chapter reviews some of the main factors that are likely to have an impact on households’ environmental practices and behaviour. The political context is first examined with the wide range of policy measures used by OECD countries to influence decision-making. Particular attention is also paid to the role of environmental attitudes and norms, improving our understanding of how policy makers can choose instruments to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of policies.
Residential Water Use
Although agriculture and industry represent the bulk of water demand, residential water use accounts for some 10-30% of total consumption in developed countries. This chapter looks at the impacts of policy measures such as water pricing and appliance labelling. It examines the determinants of water-saving behaviour and investment in water-saving appliances and whether having to pay for water according to volume actually reduces consumption. The role of respondent’s environmental "norms" is also analysed, suggesting that measures informing households of the environmental implications of excessive water consumption could have a significant complementary part to play. In addition, the question of people’s perception of tap water quality is considered in the survey. The chapter presents results on household satisfaction with the quality of tap water and on their motivation to buy bottled water for drinking either for health reasons or for reasons of taste.
Residential Energy Use
Growing world energy demand, including from the residential sector, is putting increasing pressure on the environment and is key to addressing climate change. This chapter looks at the effect of measures available to policy makers to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. These range from economic incentives, such as energy taxation or grants for investment in solar panels, to energy efficiency labelling and communication campaigns. The main factors influencing energy-saving behaviour at home and affecting investments in energy-efficiency equipments are analysed, with particular attention paid to the role of energy pricing. The role of respondents’ level of environmental concern is considered. The chapter also examines the determinants of demand for renewable energy and how much more households are willing to pay to use renewable energy.
Waste Generation, Recycling and Prevention
Addressing the issue of municipal solid waste is a challenge and households are directly responsible for the generation of a large proportion of municipal waste. This chapter summarises results which improve our understanding of household behaviour with respect to waste, assisting policy makers in the design of efficient policies that induce people to minimise waste through waste recycling and prevention. This chapter addresses key policy issues such as the impact of waste charges on waste generation and recycling rates and waste prevention efforts. The question of whether the presence and characteristics of recycling programmes (e.g. door-to-door, drop-off, frequency of pick up) significantly affect the generation of mixed waste for disposal and waste recycling is examined. The role of general attitudes towards the environment in influencing household behaviour is considered as well.
Personal Transport Choices
The transport sector is one of the major contributors to climate change. Personal transport also significantly contributes to local and regional air pollution with emission of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. This chapter looks at the effects of different types of public policies influencing transport demand ranging from pricing measures, such as fuel taxes or financial incentives to buy "cleaner" vehicles, to car labelling or the provision of transport infrastructure. The main factors affecting car ownership, car use and car choice are analysed, as well as factors which encourage the use of public transport. The impact of the relative price of different means of transport on mode choice receives particular attention. The role of environmental "norms" on personal transport decisions is also considered, improving our understanding of how raising public awareness about the environmental effects of private car use can complement other policies.
Organic Food Consumption
Food production and consumption is exerting increasing pressure on the environment, in particular through water, energy, pesticide and fertiliser use. This chapter looks at the impact of instruments directly targeting consumer choice concerning organic food consumption, such as organic labelling and raising awareness through public information campaigns. It provides a better understanding of the main motivations for consuming organic food. The importance of private considerations, like health concerns, is compared to the role of environmental motivations in households’ decision to consume organic food. The chapter also examines how much more households are willing to pay for organic food products compared to conventional ones.
Conclusions and Policy Implications
This concluding chapter presents important general cross-cutting policy lessons emerging from this survey on the design of demandside measures and how to increase their impact at the individual or household level. It also summarises the main findings in the five areas examined: water use, energy use, personal transport choices, organic food consumption, and waste generation and recycling. The chapter draws policy implications on how to best choose and combine instruments to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of policies targeting the greening of household behaviour. It also shows the way forward with the implementation of a new round of the survey in 2011.
The OECD household survey was implemented using the internet, a cost-effective and promising approach to large-scale data collection.1 A survey provider (Lightspeed Research) was identified to collect responses to the questionnaire using its on-line consumer panels in different countries. The OECD chose the survey provider with care in order to minimise problems that can be associated with online surveys, such as biased samples, professional respondents and superficial responses. Thus, the survey provider’s panel size, recruitment, management and representiveness were scrutinised. In particular, the rules applied to manage the panel – such as the incentive mode used for the respondent and the maximum number of surveys a panellist can respond to per year – have been carefully examined.
The project was co-ordinated by the Empirical Policy Analysis Unit of the OECD Environment Directorate, with research teams with extensive experience based in selected participating countries...
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