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Consumer society

Our purchasing choices directly influence economic development on a daily basis. This means that consumers wield considerable power: What doesn't sell won't get produced.

The market is a remarkably efficient means of allocating resources and balancing supply and demand, but it does not respect the sustainable yield thresholds of natural systems.

The gap between the economist's and the ecologist's perception of the world has never been wider. Economists see a global economy that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past half-century, while ecologists see growth based on the burning of vast quantities of cheap fossil fuels, which is destabilising the climate. In a world in which economic demands are pushing against the limits of natural systems, relying exclusively on economic indicators to guide investment decisions is a recipe for disaster.

Managing the increasingly fraught relationship between the global market economy and the finite capacities of the Earth’s ecosystems is becoming an ever more demanding task.

The circular economy is a new economic model that involves a shift from the one-time depletion of natural resources to a system based on renewable energy and the continual re-use and recycling of materials. It is a solar-powered, bicycle- and rail-centred model that uses energy, water, land and materials far more efficiently and wisely than we do at present.

At a European level, households consume 25 to 30 percent of all fresh water, 20 percent of all electricity, and over 70 percent of all manufactured goods. Three out of every four European households have at least one car, and the percentage is rising each year. Consumer demand imposes a heavy burden on natural resources, while the manufacturing, use and disposal of goods contribute to air, water and soil pollution. It is clear that European households have a significant impact on the environment.

Consumption and production are interrelated. Recent sociological statistics and surveys indicate that environmental awareness among citizens has risen in correlation with household incomes.

An effective way to reduce the harmful impacts of present consumption and production patterns would be to involve stakeholders in dialogue, development strategies and implementation measures.

Various approaches have already been introduced to encourage more environmentally friendly consumption and production:

  • Regulations have been adopted to control vehicle emissions, reduce waste generation, improve energy efficiency and phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete the ozone layer.
  • Many products have been awarded European or national eco-labels, which certify that minimal harm has been done to the environment during the various stages of the product’s life cycle.
  • More and more European countries are supporting the ambitious concept of imposing a tax on products that cause pollution in order to encourage consumers and manufacturers to switch to less harmful alternatives.
  • Information is crucial when trying to influence consumer behaviour and choice. The Aarhus Convention is a powerful tool for improving the transparency of the environmental impacts of goods and activities.
  • Broad information and education campaigns have raised consumers’ awareness of the crucial role that they play in greening the market.

It is unlikely that the consumption growth trend will change in the near future. However, more and more people are realising that by making wise consumer choices and generating less waste, they can help to reduce pressure on the environment.

In terms of resource use, Belarus does not differ significantly from other European countries. Consumption capacity in the country is growing annually, and people are spending more on non-food goods and services. While this trend seems unlikely to change any time soon, more people are becoming aware that high consumption levels are not necessarily synonymous with quality of life. The opportunity to live in a healthy environment, with clean water and air, safe food, a comfortable home and pleasant places for relaxation and recreation, is recognised as being far more important.

Belarus has developed regulations to control a wide range of issues related to the environment and consumption — from inappropriate locations for industrial enterprises to the content of heavy metals in toys.

Environmental tax

In order to encourage the sustainable use of natural resources, an environmental tax is imposed on groups and individuals whose activities are harmful to the environment. The tax is payable by organisations and individual entrepreneurs who are responsible for emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere; wastewater discharges; the emission of pollutants into the environment; waste storage or disposal; the transportation or refining of oil and petroleum products; and the production and/or importing of goods containing over 50 percent volatile organic compounds, such as paints and lacquers.

A new system for the levying of environmental taxes was created in 2012, targeting manufacturers and suppliers of plastic, glass, paper packaging, household appliances, batteries, lubricants, lighting devices and similar products. Under the new system, they are responsible for the collection and disposal of waste generated from their goods and packaging. The introduction of this tax could help to solve the serious problem of the collection and disposal of used batteries, household appliances and the largest components of household waste (plastic, glass and paper).


The use of eco-labels helps consumers to identify products that cause minimum damage to the environment. European countries have developed a comprehensive eco-labelling system that indicates compliance with pan-European or national environmental standards.

In Belarus, a major step was taken in 2008 with the introduction of the Natural Product label for foodstuffs. This label is awarded to foods produced:

  • from organic ingredients of vegetable or animal origin;
  • without the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs); and
  • without using artificial additives.

Access to information

The provision of information has always played a key role in shaping consumer behaviour and choices. The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention) protects consumers' rights to obtain information about products and activities that have an impact on the environment and human health.

Based on the Aarhus Convention and the Law on Appeals from Citizens and Legal Persons, all legal persons have the right of access to environmental information and the right to participate in environmental decision making — to participate in public discussions about the construction of new factories, for example.