A recent study by our group describes how individual consumers can make conscious choices that are climate friendly. The study, “Climate change mitigation potential of Norwegian households and the rebound effect,” examined the potential of Norwegian households to do their part to mitigate climate change and found there’s room for optimism. The original press release by Nancy Bazilchuk can be found here.
Government can’t do it alone
Shifting away from fossil fuels, implementing efficiency measures and a host of other large-scale actions have to be taken by governments and industry to meet that goal — but more and more research shows that government action simply won’t be enough. The study shows that consumers can make deep cuts in their carbon footprints by making wise choices. They can carpool, cut back on meat in their diets, or ditch their cars and take the bus, as just three of 34 different actions the researchers evaluated. Indeed, a strong application of most of these changes enabled consumers to initially cut their carbon footprints by as much as 58 per cent.
The irony of efficiency
But there’s a catch: consumers face a potential pitfall after they invest in highly efficient goods or make behavioural changes so they lower their carbon emissions. For example, if consumers cut back on the amount they drive, and spend less money on other car expenses, that’s good for the planet. Almost certainly, they will also find themselves with a little extra cash in their pockets. This money is often spent on discretionary items with relatively high climate impacts and the net emissions savings will be reduced. This secondary effect is called the rebound effect, and can reduce the savings from the initial emission savings. In other words, consumers who took reasonable measures to cut their carbon footprints by a substantial amount — and achieved that 58 per cent reduction — could reduce their carbon footprint cuts to just 24-35 per cent if they spend the money they save on an average mix of discretionary purchases.
Then it’s a matter of being a smart consumer with purchases. Cutting back on meat consumption and air travel, and making changes at home, such as eliminating food waste or washing clothes less and at a cooler temperature are all actions that can make a difference. When purchasing goods, aim for those that are durable, that can be repaired, or clothing and furniture that will last for a long time. Consumers should aim for purchases of goods and services that improve their quality of life, rather than material possessions.