Skip to main content

Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.

Page | Last updated: 25 Jan 2023

Changing behaviours

Human decisions and behaviours are the reason that resources are consumed and plastic (for eg) moves from the economy to the environment.

timeline and images small20
(© Photo by Gabor Molnar on Unsplash)

Trend: Changing behaviours

A trend indicates a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society.

Human decisions and behaviour are the reason that resources are consumed and plastic moves from the economy to the environment. There are opportunities for increasing awareness, influencing different decisions and different behaviours in relation to these processes. As the trade-offs between growing extraction and use of natural resources becomes more and more apparent, changes in the way we consume and the need to reduce waste is becoming more pressing. All aspects of our daily lives will be affected, some more visibly than others.

While new approaches challenge current business models, they also offer new economic opportunities. For e.g., biodegradable plastics have a specific role to play in reducing the amount of plastic in the environment, but they are not a 'silver bullet' to solve the whole problem. For the majority of applications, including single-use packaging and plastic bags, it would be better to reduce, reuse and/or recycle. Involving citizens might help to change their consumer behaviour and their attitude towards product choice and use, nature and the environment. Involving citizens and businesses will help in the design of successful policies, with interventions and for societal engagement to find necessary solutions.

This Trend is part of the  Megatrend Aggravating resource scarcity




Developments happening in certain groups in society that indicate examples of change related to the trend.

Rethinking fashion

Fast fashion refers to the production of cheap, poor quality clothing and it requires considerable resources. Discarded clothing is estimated to cost about USD 500/ EUR 425 million per year. What if fabrics were more environmentally sustainable and/or could be discarded through composting? The use of better materials and biomaterials e.g. from microalgae could make that possible. What if you’d rather rent or swap clothing than buy it, or prolong its lifespan by adapting and repairing it?

While COVID-19 lockdowns might have resulted in some wardrobe ‘Spring cleans’, digital technology and the sharing economy are providing new easy solutions to contact your local tailor, share clothing, or to find second hand clothing. In order to be able to make informed choices and purchases, consumers should be aware of the environmental impacts and circular economy aspects of clothing. Honest 'green' claims (as opposed to greenwashing) based on the EU Environmental Footprint could serve this purpose.

Signals of change: The Guardian, Colossal, The Guardian, Quantis


Food revolution

The food system is estimated to be responsible for about a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, among other negative environmental impacts. Food is one of the most impactful elements in the consumption footprint of EU citizens.

Innovation for food can provide alternatives. Growing seaweed promises a rich nutrient source, or alternatively a way to sequester atmospheric carbon. Novel production methods such as vertical farming might bring fresh food closer to urban dwellers, while dietary shifts towards more plant-based diets could reduce the environmental impacts of EU food consumption (e.g. reducing land demand and tropical deforestation). A slightly less drastic change in diet could be offered by synthetic meat and dairy products, which are starting to reach the market and have the potential to have less environmental impact compared to livestock products. Upcycling of edible surplus food, discarded products or by-products into new food items can result in new business opportunities and tasty food, while reducing food waste. New knowledge about environmental footprints and food labelling will increasingly help consumers to choose less impactful (harmful to the environment) diets.

Signals of change: EU:JRC, Planet Custodian, Sifted, CNA, BBC


Living differently

Construction is a resource- and emission-intensive business, due to the materials used (e.g. concrete, steel), the land needed, and the emissions generated because of heating the buildings etc. Social and technical innovation trends will not only improve the environmental sustainability of houses (insulation etc.), but will also shape how we live together in the future, with more emphasis on inclusive communities, but also affordability of housing. Creating '15-minutes cities’ is an initiative to change mobility and help reduce the need for individual cars, by ensuring that most transport needs of city residents can be met nearby. 

People spend up to 90% of their time indoors and technology-mediated experiences of nature are increasingly replacing direct ones, in particular for the younger generation. This transformation could be used to create interest and build pro-environmental behaviour, but could also turn out to be too limited in terms of sensory aspects to have a lasting effect.

Signals of change: El Pais, EU:New European Bauhaus, C40 cities



Interesting questions

What might this trend imply, what should we be aware of, what could we study in more depth? Some ideas:

  • Will 'new foods' such as synthetic meat be sustainable alternatives and reduce the impact of food on the environment? 

  • How can the quality and safety of food be ensured in the upcycling process of edible surplus food?

  • What are the implications of virtual nature experiences for people's mental and physical health, their attitudes toward nature and toward environmental conservation? 

  • When and how do people develop a sense of solidarity and collaboration around the local dimension of their 'global commons'?

  • How can we catalyse behavioural shifts and/or encourage permanent shifts in lifestyles?

  • How can we develop more environmental ethics when developing businesses?

  • What if the climate and biodiversity crisis, and resources scarcity crises, was treated similarly to the Covid-19 pandemic crises?