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The role of consumer awareness in the transition to a sustainable society
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The role of consumer awareness in the transition to a sustainable society
One of the key concepts in the “21st century” holds the term “sustainability’, since it is claimed that it builds the dominant normative framework in the present century [1]. The close relation linked with the normative model of sustainability is strongly connected with several crucial challenges occurring in the globalized world, including the poverty, natural resources depletion, climate change, and the environmental pollution. A common perception about these worldwide challenges have been for years the modern way of living. Sustainability along with the circular economy are topics of growing importance to governments, industry, and civil society [2].

What is sustainability and where does the term have its roots?

In a general framework, sustainability is a holistic approach that encloses ecological, social, and economic dimensions, recognizing that all must be taken into account in a combined way to reach lasting prosperity. Although the concept of sustainability is relatively new, the movement as a whole has its roots in social justice, conservationism, internationalism, and other past movements with a rich history.

The word "sustainability" originated from the concept of sustainable development, which first appeared in the "Brundtland Report" published by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987. The report defines sustainable development, or the blueprint for attaining sustainability, as: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.

Which are the pillars of sustainability?

The term of sustainability is often divided into three pillars: economic, environmental, and social; in a more informal way are often called as profits, planet, and people.

2Principles for a sustainable circular economy
Figure 1. Principles for a sustainable circular economy. Reproduced with permission [3].

In this basis, the concept of "economic sustainability" focuses on the preservation of natural resources that provide material inputs for economic production, including renewable and exhaustible inputs. From the other side, the concept of "environmental sustainability" focuses more on critical systems that need to be preserved for economic production or human life, such as the atmosphere or the Earth. In contrary, social sustainability focuses on the impact of economic systems on people, a category that includes efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger and address inequality.

The concept of a sustainable society.

A sustainable society is a community or system that is able to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This means that the society actively works towards balancing economic, environmental, and social factors in order to ensure long-term sustainability. In a sustainable society, resources are used efficiently, waste is minimized, biodiversity is preserved, and social and economic well-being are prioritized. The ultimate goal of a sustainable society is to create a future that is stable, equitable, and secure for all.

Which is the role of consumers towards the transition to a sustainable society?

Concurrently, the important role of consumers and citizens in sustainability transition is gaining recognition, as evidenced by the increasing number of publications about this issue across sectors [1], [2], [5]. The vital role that consumers play in reducing the environmental impact of business operations is based on their choices and behavior, since buying decisions are a signal for the types of products and production processes that they desire [1]. Responsible corporate behavior and consumption are two sides of the same coin dealing with the supply and demand sides of the market.

3Consumers mindsets
Figure 2. Consumers' mindsets are the starting point of circular consumption systems. Reproduced with permission [4].

"Sustainable consumption" is a growing global concern that links human behavior to the future of the planet. Negligent behavior by individuals in their daily lives could provoke significant impact on the environment, with devastating consequences for the human existence. However, transition to sustainability is a long-term challenge which should also actively engage consumers, as consumption causes environmental stress.

Some representative ways in which consumer awareness can contribute to the transition to the sustainable society:

  • Encouraging sustainable behavior: By promoting sustainable behavior, consumers can encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices, reduce waste, and minimize environmental impacts.
  • Promoting sustainable products: Consumers can actively seek out and purchase sustainable products and services, such as organic and fair trade goods, green energy, and recycled materials. Through these actions, consumers can help the creation of a market for sustainable products and incentivize companies to adopt more sustainable practices.
  • Holding companies accountable: By demanding transparency and ethical behavior, consumers can pressure companies to improve their sustainability policies and minimize their environmental footprint.
  • Creating demand for sustainable innovation: Consumer awareness can create demand for sustainable innovation and drive companies to develop new, sustainable products and technologies. By supporting sustainable innovation, consumers can help to accelerate the transition to a sustainable society.
Undoubtedly, sustainability is a complex and multifaceted concept that demands a holistic approach to decision-making. Nevertheless, consumer awareness is a critical factor in the transition to a sustainable society. By promoting sustainable behavior, supporting sustainable products, holding companies accountable, and creating demand for sustainable innovation, consumers can help to drive the transition to a more sustainable future!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead


A. Buerke, T. Straatmann, N. Lin-Hi, and K. Müller, “Consumer awareness and sustainability-focused value orientation as motivating factors of responsible consumer behavior,” Rev. Manag. Sci., vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 959–991, 2017, doi: 10.1007/s11846-016-0211-2.

T. Gallo, F. Pacchera, C. Cagnetti, and C. Silvestri, “Do Sustainable Consumers Have Sustainable Behaviors? An Empirical Study to Understand the Purchase of Food Products,” Sustain., vol. 15, no. 5, 2023, doi: 10.3390/su15054462.

A. P. M. Velenturf and P. Purnell, “Principles for a sustainable circular economy,” Sustain. Prod. Consum., vol. 27, pp. 1437–1457, 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.spc.2021.02.018.

G. M. Gomes, N. Moreira, and A. R. Ometto, “Role of consumer mindsets, behaviour, and influencing factors in circular consumption systems: A systematic review,” Sustain. Prod. Consum., vol. 32, pp. 1–14, 2022, doi: 10.1016/j.spc.2022.04.005.

K. Formela, M. Kurańska, and M. Barczewski, “Recent Advances in Development of Waste-Based Polymer Materials: A Review,” Polymers (Basel)., vol. 14, no. 5, 2022, doi: 10.3390/polym14051050.