Handbook of Research on Sustainable Consumption
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Handbook of Research on Sustainable Consumption

Edited by Lucia A. Reisch and John Thøgersen

This Handbook compiles the state of the art of current research on sustainable consumption from the world’s leading experts in the field. The implementation of sustainable consumption presents one of the greatest challenges and opportunities we are faced with today. On the one hand, consumption is a wanted and necessary phenomenon important for society and the economy. On the other, our means of consumption contradicts many important ecological and social long-term goals. Set against this background, the Handbook aims to offer an interdisciplinary overview of recent research on sustainable consumption, to draw attention to this subject and to encourage discussion and debate. In 27 chapters, leading authorities in the field provide their expertise in a concise and accessible manner.
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Chapter 21: Promoting sustainable consumption: the risks of using financial incentives

Jan Willem Bolderdijk and Linda Steg


Scientists agree that many of today’s most pressing environmental issues (for example, resource depletion, water pollution, climate change) can ultimately be attributed to specific behaviour of consumers. Whether we decide to live in poor or well-insulated houses, travel by plane or train, put beef or locally grown vegetables on our plate, on an aggregate level, substantially influences the amount of energy, water and land that is involved in housing, moving and feeding humanity (Hammond 2006; Hoekstra 2013). Consequently, a key component to mitigating environmental problems lies with changing the behaviour of individual consumers (Dietz et al. 2009). But how should consumers be motivated to act pro-environmentally? Sustainable consumption often involves some degree of physical or financial discomfort on behalf of the consumer. For example locally grown vegetables are typically less readily available than mass-produced, greenhouse-grown alternatives which are typically offered in supermarket settings. Sustainable consumption is sometimes also financially expensive; adding more insulation to one’s home for instance requires a steep initial financial investment.

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