Real world consumer behaviour relating to the purchase of environmentally preferable goods

Funded by: European Commission


January 2009 to October 2009

PSI researchers:

Ben Shaw

Robin Vanner

Background, summary and aims

Background, Scope and Aims

The objective of this project was to illustrate, through real-world examples of product policy, the ways in which consumer behaviour deviates from that predicted by rational choice theory and to identify the influences that are known to affect consumer choice. The project considered evidence emerging from the parallel disciplines of behavioural economics and both commercial and social marketing, and analysed the applicability of behavioural economic theories to examples of European product policy.

Project Design

The project aimed to develop a thorough and up-to-date understanding of how the factors identified by behavioural economics may cause consumers to diverge away from the rational choice model. This was done by first establishing, through the literature review, a thorough, current understanding of the main factors that may create a diversion from the rational choice model. The review included relevant literature from the fields of behavioural economics, consumer behaviour and pro-environmental behaviour, and both commercial and social marketing. The project concluded with an analysis of project findings and the production of a series of policy briefs.

Importance of Research

The project sought to provide decision-makers in the European Commission with concise, policy-relevant summaries of the influences on consumer behaviour in relation to key product policy areas. It highlighted the effectiveness of different policy options in addressing these influences and opportunities that exist for improving the effectiveness of these options.


Each briefing describes the key findings of the project related to one key area of product policy. A longer, 8-page policy brief has also been produced to draw together the overall findings of the project and to provide a general overview of how behavioural economics can explain the influences on the consumer behaviour. In addition, a final report provides a concise summary of both the literature review and evidence relating to five specific product types (new vehicles, food and drink, utilities, white goods, and consumer electronics).

Designing policy to influence consumers: consumer behaviour relating to the purchasing of environmentally-preferable products