Sustainable consumer behaviour


Will consumers who are motivated to use a particular natural resource in a sustainable way also use other natural resources more sustainably? For example, will a person reduce food waste if he or she learns to use water sparingly? Or does the opposite occur?

Project description (ongoing research project)

Motivating consumers to use a particular natural resource more sustainably can have positive “spill-over effects”. The more sparing use of water can increase awareness for the importance of sustainable consumption and lead to generally more environment-friendly behaviour. It is also possible that individuals who use water sparingly do not behave sustainably in other contexts. This is what is referred to as a “negative spill-over effect”. Water conservation may be perceived as a major effort that would lead to an entitlement to a “reward”, such as increased use of a motor vehicle. In this project we are determining under which preconditions we can expect positive or negative “spill-over effects”.


With the help of various, mostly economically or psychologically oriented measures, efforts are being made today to render the use of natural resources by consumers more sustainable. The effectiveness of such measures varies. Impact analyses exist, but are usually contextually isolated, so that it is not possible to estimate the effects of the measures for other areas. This is necessary, however, in order to increase the sustainability of consumption as a whole.


We want to determine under which conditions and for which areas positive or negative “spill-over effects” occur as a consequence of measures to increase the sustainable use of resources. The analysis is based on empirical field and laboratory studies. It is particularly important to determine the individual’s perceived costs and benefits of the more sustainable use of a resource. It is also important to learn which resources are related in the eyes of the user.


Based on this project it may be possible to conceptualise measures that stimulate as many positive and as few negative “spill-over effects” as possible for the use of natural resources. In this way, the efficiency of the interventions to increase the sustainable use of natural resources by consumers can be significantly augmented. We are thus addressing Sustainable Development Goals nos. 7 (affordable and clean energy), 12 (responsible consumption and production), and 13 (climate action).

Original title

Sustainable Consumer Behaviour – The Relevance of Spill-over Effects in the Use of Natural Resources

Project leader

  • Prof. Dr. Renate Schubert, Institut für Umweltentscheidungen, ETH Zürich



Further information on this content



Prof. Dr. Renate Schubert Institut für Umweltentscheidungen, ETH Zürich Clausiusstrasse 37 8092 Zürich +41 44 632 47 17

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