Norwegian version

Consumption habits brought about by the pandemic could be good news for the climate

woman with face mask in forest

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a different everyday life with less travel, closed shops, home schooling and home office. Researchers behind a new study from SIFO, believe that some of the new habits people have picked up during corona, can be positive for the environment, if they continue even after the pandemic has subsided. 

In the survey, 58 percent agree with the statement “The coronavirus outbreak is good for the environment and climate because we travel less.”, but only 30 percent agree that the pandemic has been good for the environment because we are making fewer purchases. 

Technology optimism: Those who believe that technology will solve climate and environmental problems are less willing to reduce their own consumption. 

Consumer responsibility: Those who give consumers a great responsibility to solve climate and environmental problems are more willing to reduce their own consumption. 

Positive environmental attitudes 

"Consumers' environmental attitudes are constantly changing", says Head of Research Torvald Tangeland. 

For several years, he has monitored Norwegians' environmental attitudes. 

"This year's survey shows that consumers" environmental attitudes are becoming less of an obstacle for a more sustainable future", he says. 

The new study shows that both technology optimism, and the belief that consumers have a responsibility to solve climate and environmental problems is growing. 

"Consumers believe that it is the authorities who have the greatest responsibility for solving climate and environmental problems, followed by the business community". Consumers themselves have the least amount of responsibility, says Tangeland. 

Shopping habits, clothing, and leisure: More TV than hiking 

How have we spent our free time over the past year? Not surprisingly, there is a significant decline in social activities. The activity that has increased the most is watching TV and streaming films or series, especially among young people under 30 years of age. As many as 54 percent of the respondents watched more TV during corona than before. 

Trips to forests, fields and mountains have also been a popular activity during the corona era. 38 percent stated that they spent more time in nature during the corona period than before. Other activities that have increased are gardening, renovation, and needlework. 

Old clothes are good for the environment 

Trade has naturally turned towards online shopping, and the pandemic has affected the type of clothing being worn. 44 percent say that they have worn less formal clothing and many have increased their use of casual wear and comfortable clothing. It seems that several people have taken another look in the wardrobe and are now wearing more of their older clothes than before. 

"Some of these changes can have positive effects on the environment, such as less purchases of new clothes and more use of old clothes", says Kirsi Laitala, who has written with Ingun Grimstad Klepp. 

We shop less often and plan better 

Our eating and shopping habits have also changed during the corona period. We spend more time cooking and trying new dishes, in addition to 15 percent of people saying that they throw away less food than they used to. 

During the corona period, we have also shopped less often and purchased more at one time. Online grocery shopping has exploded, especially among the youngest. 

"We do not yet know if grocery shopping on the internet is more sustainable than shopping for food in the store, but reduced driving can be a good environmental benefit", says Nina Heidenstrøm, who has written the chapter together with Marie Hebrok. 

They are participating in the European project PLATEFORMS, which investigates whether digital food services can facilitate a more sustainable food consumption. 

The researchers believe that one of the environmental benefits from online shopping is to reduce food waste. 

"Shopping from home can help us to plan better because we can check what we already have in the fridge, freezer and cupboard and make a plan based on that. 

Gardening, harvesting and local production 

Every other Norwegian household either runs their own farm, harvests from their own or someone else’s garden. The survey also shows that in 2020, many stated that they have been picking other produce in nature, such as berries or mushrooms. Compared with a previous SIFO survey (Bugge 2015), more people now grow their own vegetables, pick berries, pick mushrooms and harvest from their gardens and or in nature. 

"Food distributed locally, whether it is directly from the farmer, in a local market or in the form of self-sufficiency is often considered more sustainable than ordinary food production”, says Gunnar Vittersø, who has written the chapter together with Hanne Torjusen. 

A nice leisure activity 

Among those who have practiced self-supply, more than one in three gave “increase the supply of food in the household” as reason. Almost one in three of these households ran a form of their own food supply to save food expenses. 60 percent, also believe it to be an enjoyable activity. 

"In terms of sustainability, the corona period for many may have contributed to increased experience and knowledge of food supply, and it will be interesting to see if this will have more lasting effects on the local self-sufficiency of food", says Vittersø. 

Unsure if new habits will last 

The researchers describe the corona period as a window of opportunity to study changes in our consumption patterns and what consequences these changes may have beyond the crisis period. 

"It remains to be seen which changes will last. Previous research has shown that our habits tend to revert back after a crisis”, the researchers say. 

Download the report 

Gunnar Vittersø, Marie Hebrok, Nina Heidenstrøm, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Kirsi Laitala, Torvald Tangeland, Harald Throne-Holst and Hanne Torjusen: Sustainable corona life (oda.oslomet.no). SIFO project note 4-2021

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A research article from:
Forbruksforskningsinstituttet SIFO
Published: 13/10/2021
Last updated: 26/10/2021
Text: Kjersti Lassen
Photo: maridav/Unsplash