Keywords: environmental information, risk perception, product policy, sustainable consumption, sustainability, consumer products, environmental risks, social meaning, social differences, purchasing decisions, symbolic value, sustainable development
Environmental information and the symbolic value of consumer products
Environmental information has a central role in the programmes and documents of sustainable consumption policies. Its role is based mainly on the view of a rational consumer, i.e., the consumer makes decisions according to rational knowledge and facts. However, we need a broader and deeper understanding of how environmental risks are socially constructed and of how products act as transmitters of social meanings, of how consumers receive and deal with the messages bound to the products, and of consumers as active intentional actors. When planning policy instruments, it is important to call attention to what kinds of benefits exist for the consumer himself when taking notice of the environmental qualities of products. Another important aspect is to understand what is the role of products as symbols of social differences and drawing attention to a way of living. Environmental qualities, after all, are usually only one factor among others and they are rarely the decisive factors according to which a consumer makes his purchasing decisions.