A waste management expert from Japan pointed out three important factors that can influence consumer behaviour to build a more sustainable society: Habit, awareness among young people, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Investment.
Dr Misuzu Asari, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, said in addition to price and performance, research shows that habit is an important factor that drives consumers’ decisions.
‘People often don’t have a clear reason as to why they choose a certain product, but they decided to choose it out of habit,’ she said. Thus, by raising awareness about the significant role habit plays in shaping consumers’ behaviour, business owners could intervene to reduce packaging waste.
Dr Asari was speaking in a webinar held by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) through a collaboration between the Entrepreneurship, Startups, and Innovation (E-S-I) Knowledge Lab and the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris (RKC-MPD). Entitled ‘Female Entrepreneurs in the ASEAN Region: Innovation to Tackle Marine Plastic Waste’, the webinar aimed to raise awareness about the alarming marine plastic pollution and highlight the innovative efforts taken by the private sector in addressing the issue.
Dr Asari also emphasised the importance of raising awareness on sustainability issues among young people. In Japan, this idea has been implemented by including a module about plastics in science classes in high school.
‘There are more than 20 pages dedicated to plastics only. Also, they have been studying Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since elementary school. So, the younger generation certainly has the knowledge and awareness,’ said Dr Asari.
The third important factor is ESG investment, a practice in which investment professionals consider environmental, social, and governance issues in their financial analysis before investing in businesses. Dr Asari believes that ESG investment plays an instrumental role in our collective efforts to pursue carbon neutrality and circular economy, ‘and mainstreaming ESJ investment will also have a significant impact on business owners.’
Nevertheless, Dr Asari admitted that achieving a sustainable society requires significant social changes, and creating such changes is not an easy task. One of the most recent efforts undertaken by her team at Kyoto University to move towards this goal is facilitating co-creation. Through this initiative, the team invited all stakeholders in the value chain, including government, industries, and consumers, to meet and discuss.
‘At the end of this month, we will conduct a co-creation workshop with more than 30 people from the whole value chain and discuss each plastic product. And then we will share our opinions and expert knowledge about their ways and the possibility of improvement for each product,’ Dr Asari explained.
Additionally, she also highlighted a few more ideas that are instrumental in addressing plastic pollution and, in the long term, creating a more sustainable society. The ideas include the importance of local policies, the use of new technologies, the enforcement of product passports, and the availability of various options for consumers to reduce plastic waste.
Local policies, according to Dr Asari, need to be established in accordance with local challenges. Utilising new technology such as satellite imaging to monitor river and ocean pollution would be very helpful to support research works. Product passports, meanwhile, will help the authority in tracking waste and its responsible producers. Finally, the availability of various options for consumers to choose from, along with the impact of each option, would help consumers make better decisions and in the long term, change their behaviour.