At least judged by its outcome, it seems that consumers in the rich parts of the world make less of an effort at changing their lifestyle in a sustainable direction than is desired by society and than is in their own collective long-term interest. Part of the explanations is that individual consumers are constrained by limited resources in terms of finances, time, cognitive capacity, energy, and knowledge, and in everyday life lots of activities and goals compete for the same limited resources. In addition, there are external conditions affecting the effectiveness of an individual consumer's striving for sustainability. The relevant external conditions are an extremely diverse set of factors, perhaps their only commonality being that, unless making an organized effort, consumers can do nothing about them. Because external conditions influence all or many consumers, making them more facilitating for sustainable consumption can be much more effective than anything an individual consumer can do. Many of the external constraints facing consumers who want to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle are of a relative nature and their impact depends on the individual's resources. For instance, if a consumer wants to buy organic food or environment-friendly detergents, limited distribution and premium pricing put restrictions on his or her opportunities for doing so. However, how severely these restrictions are felt depends on the individual consumer's financial and time resources and sometimes on other resources (e.g., knowl-edge) as well. Together with the person's level of motivation to do so, this subjective feeling of how difficult it is to make a change towards a more sustainable lifestyle deter-mine how hard the person will strive to do so. Consumer policy can empower consumers for changing lifestyles by reducing some of their individual constraints, but it should also attempt to loosen some of the external con-straints that make changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle difficult. In terms of re-ducing consumers' subjectively felt restrictions on their ability to change lifestyle, the two approaches are equivalent. However, they may differ in their political feasibility, ef-fectiveness, and costs. Policy that increases a feeling of empowerment may also have a positive effect on consumers' motivation to make an effort, thus amplifying its effects. In this paper I discuss both types of constraints on lifestyle changes in a sustainable direc-tion as well as adequate policy for reducing constraints. I also discuss possible motiva-tional effects of the proposed policies.
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Der Verbraucher als Souverän? Wirtschaftspolitische Perspektiven der Verbraucherpolitik, Evangelische Akademie Tutzing, 2004