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Green Nudges in the European Union

EU Law

Between 21 and 23 April I will be taking part in the 13th Jean Monnet Seminar, organized by the Chair of European Public Law, University of Zagreb, at the Inter University Centre in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I will be presenting a paper entitled ‘Green Nudges in the European Union’. You can access the full programme here.

Here is the abstract:

European States have long discussed, designed, and implemented public policies so as to educate individuals, influence their decisions, and reduce the environmental impact of their behaviours. Yet, traditional policy tools have proved insufficient for addressing the severity and diversity of modern-day environmental problems and ensuring sustainable development. Policymakers need to look beyond the traditional tools of regulation, public information campaigns, market-based instruments, and technological solutions. Traditional public policies are based on the belief that the individual – perceived as homo economicus – is rational in that he is capable of reason and of applying logic in his decisions. Many governmental policies in the past expressed a conviction that if the right carrots and sticks were provided to citizens, alongside accurate information, they would make use of their rationality to consider the costs and benefits of their actions and respond appropriately.

Over the last few years, new policies, drawing from the insights of Behavioural Economics and Behavioural Psychology, have emerged as an alternative in the environmental realm. These policies – often referred to as ‘pro-environmental behaviour changing policies’ – have been designed to change the behavioural norms that have emerged as part of our mass consumption societies and to encourage humans to reduce the demands that they place on the environment. European environmental policy might become more cost-effective if it transforms rational choice models to include bounded rationality, bounded self-interest, and bounded willpower. These sciences can help decision makers of all kinds to understand the environmental consequences of their choices and the human consequences of environmental processes and policies, as well as to organize decision-making processes to be well informed and democratic.

A new policy approach argues that policymakers should design policies that reflect on how people really behave instead of just seeking to change people’s behaviour through rules and regulations. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s influential book ‘Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness’ draws on behavioural economics and social psychology to explain why people often act in ways that are not completely rational. This new paradigm argues that policymakers should act as ‘choice architects’, organizing the context, process and environment in which individuals make decisions. Thaler and Sunstein advocate the use of ‘nudges’, small features designed in the environment of choice making. Nudge offers a valuable framework for changing the choice architecture of European citizens in order to achieve modifications in their behaviours. As a result of these new insights, there has been an important shift in environmental policymaking in several countries. This change is consubstantiated in a move away from economically orientated policies towards more psychologically oriented initiatives, based on a new understanding of human behaviour. Public agencies have begun to develop policies that reflect the insights of behavioural economics. In our paper we will discuss different types of ‘green nudges’ that have been implemented at the national level and discuss to what extent they should be incorporated into European Environmental Policymaking.


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