IGF 2021 WS #78 Sustainable consumption in e-commerce

Time
Friday, 10th December, 2021 (09:45 UTC) - Friday, 10th December, 2021 (11:15 UTC)
Room
Hall A3

Organizer 1: Martyna Derszniak-Noirjean, UOKIK
Organizer 2: Natasza Skrzek, UOKIK
Organizer 3: Karol Muż, European Consumer Centre in Poland
Organizer 4: Marta Grybś-Kabocik, University of Economics in Katowice
 

Speaker 1: Nils Behrndt, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 2: Peter Andrews, Civil Society, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 3: Agustin Reyna, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 4: Slawomir Smyczek, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 5: Claire Scharwatt, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Additional Speakers

Maciej Czapliński - Government, Counsel at the Department of Market Analyses, Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKIK), Eastern European States.

He will represent our Office (Office of Competition and Consumer Protection in Poland - UOKIK) as we are the initiator of the panel. It will be valuable to present also our perspective in this area. 

Moderator

Karol Muż, Government, Eastern European Group

Online Moderator

Martyna Derszniak-Noirjean, Government, Eastern European Group

Rapporteur

Marta Grybś-Kabocik, Civil Society, Eastern European Group

Format

Round Table - Circle - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Economic and social inclusion and sustainable development: What is the relationship between digital policy and development and the established international frameworks for social and economic inclusion set out in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on the Rights of the Child, and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? How do policy makers and other stakeholders effectively connect these global instruments and interpretations to national contexts?
Inclusion, rights and stakeholder roles and responsibilities: What are/should be the responsibilities of governments, businesses, the technical community, civil society, the academic and research sector and community-based actors with regard to digital inclusion and respect for human rights, and what is needed for them to fulfil these in an efficient and effective manner?

The guiding question around which the workshop will revolve is: how does the rise of e-commerce impact sustainable consumption?

To address this question, it is necessary to ensure the participation of all key groups: consumers, regulators, and businesses. Particular attention should be paid to different age groups and intergenerational diversity. The insights and analyses necessary to deepen the considered issues, providing recommendations and depicting action areas will additionally be provided by speakers from academia and NGO representation. Through involving such a range of speakers, we aim to guarantee a diversity of stakeholders participating. This will in turn ensure the event has a global focus, enables nuanced discussion of the issues and encourages debate due to the presentation of different standpoints and contexts. Through exploring how the development of e-commerce can contribute the event will explore several focus areas, policy questions and recommendations for changes in, business practice, legislation and consumer decision making.

The horizontal themes raised during the workshop will concern economic, digital, and social inclusion/exclusion. We perceive this problem multi-dimensionally. Research makes clear that there are significant intergenerational divides in how different generations perceive and use digital tools, along with how they relate to online spaces/tools and use them in daily life. In the extreme situation, older age groups (like Baby Boomers and partly generation X) may even face digital illiteracy and exclusion, which stands in contrast with the digital openness of younger consumers (i.e. Millennials, generation Z, and the new generation α).

Looking through the lens of e-commerce development, we see these differences resulting in digital and economic exclusion or inclusion. The problem becomes even more pronounced and complex when we consider the impact of online spaces and e-commerce to sustainable consumption. Considering the urgency of the SDGs achievement, the mainstreaming of sustainable consumption and production becomes a must and online marketplaces will be an essential area to consider.

However, as the development of e-commerce increases at a rapid rate across the world, it is vital to consider the impact it is having on both sustainable and unsustainable behaviours from business and consumers, along with the barriers consumers face in accessing sustainable goods and services. Considering the intergenerational diversity in how people use online spaces, we aim to discuss barriers to sustainable options in the context of social/digital exclusion. Such exclusion derives from a range of objective barriers, such as the lack of sustainable solutions accessible to consumers, along with a lack of information on the true climate, biodiversity and societal impact of purchasing decisions. Consumers may also self-exclude by displaying the discrepancy between positive attitudes toward sustainability concepts and following unsustainable behaviours (attitude-behaviour gap or the intention-action gap). To ensure the event delivers on exploring these complexities and how access to sustainability varies across regions, we plan to also centre discussion on the discrepancy between high, middle- and low-income countries and understand how the concept of sustainability (and what it means for consumers) varies across geographies and economies. Considering this, engaging different actors representing the public sector, the private sector, academia, and representatives of NGOs is crucial as it ensures the arguments and conclusions that arise in the discussion are of the highest practical value and are not only focused on the experience high income countries and consumers.

Concerning the above, the workshop will focus on questions from the first main focus area encompassing economic and social inclusion and sustainable development as well as inclusion, rights and stakeholder roles and responsibilities. The issues of economic and social inclusion as applied to the pillars of the SDG’s are highly tied to the topic of sustainability, biodiversity protection and climate change. It is our aim that the workshop will allow space to explore how these issues tie together and the need for holistic thinking on the relationships between sustainability, online marketplaces and climate change.

Finally, understanding the sustainable and unsustainable nature of consumer behaviour on the internet touches on the contradiction we are seeing between greater consumer rationality/understanding around sustainability and the impact of hyper-consumption that is being mobilised by e-commerce. Both may derive from an easy information search and accessing the wide range of commodities. Our deliberations thus lead to a complex question of consumer sovereignty in a digital world. It justifies a deepened thought on: what should be meant by digital consumer sovereignty? What implications does it have for the global nature of the internet, internet governance itself and the effectiveness of the multi-stakeholder approach?” More specifically, the workshop will revolve around and try to answer the following questions:

• What do we, consumers gain from e-commerce in terms of sustainable consumption? • What are the possible e-commerce related threats for consumers that they have to face (consumer rights, sustainability, greenwashing). • What are the opportunities for e-commerce to serve as a tool/mechanism to scaling up access to sustainable goods and services? • Does e-commerce risk encouraging unsustainable levels of consumption and how can online marketplaces be built/adapted to integrate sustainability into their business models? • As low- and middle-income countries increasingly engage with e-commerce and its impact, how can sustainability be make accessible and affordable to all, not just wealthy nations?

To discuss listed issues and provide tangible statements, we foresee the following thematic elements of the workshop: - Introduction of the guiding question (how does e-commerce impact sustainable consumption?); - Discussion directed by the specific questions (reflecting the range of our multidimensional approach), which results in a SWOT analysis of e-commerce about and from the perspective of sustainable consumption; - Summarising and concluding with respect to the different stakeholder groups (public, private, NGO, consumers) with particular attention to the inclusion and age-related issues; - Framing recommendations on what we can do to mitigate weaknesses and threats identified in SWOT analysis; - Pointing out the areas of needed actions, for business, policy and consumers.

To summarise, the workshop will embrace economic and social inclusion and human rights as the main focus area, with particular regard to two out of the policy questions: 2. Economic and social inclusion and sustainable development, and 4. Inclusion, rights, and stakeholder roles and responsibilities. Additionally, the discussion will lead to the emerging and cross-cutting issue areas, such as environmental sustainability and climate change, alongside inclusive Internet governance ecosystems and digital cooperation. It should be mentioned that in the workshop we want to present the understanding of both the barriers to embedding sustainability (and sustainable options) in online marketplace, and the opportunities the internet gives us for making access to truly sustainable goods and services easier and more accessible to a range of people. Discussing this in a multi-stakeholder setting allows for a unique opportunity for holistic thinking on the subject.

SDGs

12. Responsible Production and Consumption
12.5
12.6
12.8
12.a

Targets: 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. 12.5 - By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. 12.6 - Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle. 12.8 - By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature. 12.a - Support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production. The main topic of our workshop is related to the sustainable consumption in e-commerce. From this perspective, the proposal is in line with the issues written in the Sustainable Development Goal number 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that Consumers International is a co-lead of the United Nations ‘Consumer Information Programme’ as part of the One Planet Network that is actively focused on achieving SDG 12. Having on board the diverse, multi-stakeholders, from consumers, public sector, through private sector to academia and NGO we would like to raise the crucial issues covered by the following SDGs targets: 12.5, 12.6, 12.8, 12.a. Undeniably, the workshop theme fits in with this sustainable development goal linking the issues of consumers, e-commerce and sustainability in order to define the strengths and the weaknesses and foremost indicate the opportunities and threats of consumption in e-commerce having in mind the sustainability.

Description:

The workshop will focus on the recognition of how the rise of e-commerce has an impact on the sustainability of consumption.

The horizontal themes raised during the workshop concern economic, digital, and social inclusion/exclusion, perceived multi-dimensionally. The most significant issues of the last decades on concerning to make consumption and production more sustainable have gained new dimensions along with the emergence and development of digital technologies. Due to technological change, the pace of e-commerce has accelerated considerably. It is vital to consider the impact it is having on both sustainable and unsustainable behaviors from business and consumers, along with the barriers consumers face in accessing sustainable goods and services. We aim to discuss barriers to sustainable options in the context of social/digital exclusion. Furthermore, we plan to also center discussion on the differences between high, middle- and low-income countries and understand how the concept of sustainability (and what it means for consumers) varies across geographies and economies and for the issue of economic exclusion. The discussions will also touch upon the complex question of consumer sovereignty in a digital world. It is our aim that the workshop will allow space to explore how these issues tie together and the need for holistic thinking on the relationships between sustainability, online marketplaces and climate change.

To address these issues, it is necessary to ensure the participation of all key groups: consumers, regulators, businesses, academia and NGOs. Particular attention should be paid to different age groups and intergenerational diversity. Through involving such a range of speakers, we aim to guarantee a diversity of stakeholders participating. This will in turn ensure the event has a global focus, enables nuanced discussion of the issues and encourages debate due to the presentation of different standpoints and contexts. Workshop analysis of the contribution of e-commerce development to sustainable consumption will explore several focus areas, policy questions and recommendations for changes in business practice, legislation and consumer decision making.

Expected Outcomes

The discussion will be geared towards addressing the above-mentioned questions and providing answers based on the discussion and interaction with online and offline participants. The workshop participants will jointly draft recommendations for different groups of stakeholders. These recommendations, together with a summary of the workshops discussions and conclusions, can be captured in a brochure/publication which can be disseminated as a written product of the workshop.

All speaker organisations, together with UOKiK, will share information about the event throughout their membership network to scale up engagement and the number of participants/viewers and disseminate the outcomes of the workshop. We will also share information on the event via our social media channels. Moreover, Consumers International will publish a blog and use the Consumers International Website to publicise the event (CI membership network: 200 members across 100 countries). We are also open to collaborating with other partners about a joint social media campaign.

The information on the workshop and the workshop outcomes will be also published on the University of Economics in Katowice website. Also, a detailed account of the workshop will be given on the University's social media platforms. What is more, to increase the outreach, the University of Economics in Katowice will publish information about the workshop and its outcomes in a newsletter, which reaches scholar and business partners from the local, national and global environment. The article with the workshop conclusions will be published in University’s Journal, as well in internationally recognized scientific journals which cover a similar topic. Moreover, the Department of Consumption creates a subsection on the University website which will be devoted to theory and practice concerning consumption and consumer behaviour. The website will be updated with information about the workshop. In addition, the University of Economics in Katowice will hold the follow-up event targeted to its stakeholders, especially: students and high school youths (the University patronages several local high schools). The event will be aimed at encouraging young people (representing mainly generation Z and Alfa) to raise their awareness of the opportunities and threats delivered by e-commerce in the light of changing their lifestyles toward more sustainable ones. To achieve this, we schedule the event called "Digital Sustainability Fairs". The Fairs will encourage the exchange of ideas and good practices between higher education students from regional universities, nationally and internationally recognized scholars interested in the topic of e-commerce, sustainability and digitalization and finally practitioners from both global corporations and small and medium enterprises. Therefore, the expected outcome of such a diversified event is to raise global awareness about sustainability in a digital era. The Fairs themselves will take place in the open space at the University of Economics in Katowice. Students will present their ideas on how to digitally enhance sustainable consumption. Guest will be invited to take part in workshops on topics of sustainable consumption, digital awareness, digital inclusiveness and e-commerce safety. Workshops will be provided by experts in the fields. In the main assembly hall, a debate will take place and guests could join a series of inspirational speeches (TEDx alike) provided by representatives of business, sharing good practices on stimulating sustainable consumption in e-commerce, social media and other new technologies. As a result, “Digital Sustainability Fairs” will focus on two pillars:

1. students-centred, 2. business-oriented.

Before the event, students will be encouraged to involve in a form of a contest in a debate. A contest will be announced at the beginning of the academic year inviting students to prepare short videos of how e-commerce can enhance sustainable consumption. The main aim of the videos will be to promote the smart usage of digital sources for more sustainable consumption. The videos will be presented during digital sustainability fairs in specially prepared booths. In booths, guests will have a possibility to watch a promotional movie, discuss the promoted solution and if needed learn how to use it. Short videos are widely watched nowadays on social media. As a result, it was decided that exploiting this trend will be the most effective way to raise awareness among young consumers about sustainable consumption concerning e-commerce. To add fun and competitive element, videos will be assessed by a jury of 3 experts (academia and business) and a winner video will be promoted through Universities website and social media. To increase the attractiveness of the Fairs, as well as to enhance its educative side, students will be offered to join a series of workshops on how to become a more sustainable consumer, how to be safe in the online world and prevent digital exclusion.

To provide a diversified perspective, it is crucial to incorporate business orientation during the organization of the event. Therefore, to properly share good practices about the influence of e-commerce and digitalization on sustainable consumption, it is planned to organize a panel of discussions similar to TEDx inspirational speeches. Experts from around the world, representing both multinational corporations and SME, NGOs and researchers in the field of digitalization, e-commerce, consumption and marketing will be invited to talk about their experience and perspective on the issue.

Our workshop will be held in a hybrid format to facilitate participation to both speakers and participants present both online and onsite. The Round-Table will have a defined structure and parts according to the goals of the workshop.

First of all, we shall have two moderators - a male and a female - who will jointly facilitate the discussion, however, one will be present physically while the other will be online to create a sense of representation to both groups of participants and to facilitate the later discussion.

The online moderator will also manage the chat.

Second, the dual-moderator approach will ensure that the audience is actively challenged to follow the speakers, share their reflections, and ask questions.

Third, we shall use other online tools such as blackboard and the voting app. It will ensure that even more passive participants are stimulated to participate actively. Moreover, polls on zoom or metimeter are also a good way of stimulating involvement from an online audience. Menti can be used on phones so could also be on a phone so participants physically in the room can also participate.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: In order to increase participation and interaction during the session we shall also use other online tools such as blackboard and the voting app. It will ensure that even more passive participants are stimulated to participate actively. Moreover, polls on zoom or metimeter are also a good way of stimulating involvement from an online audience. Menti can be used on phones so could also be on a phone so participants physically in the room can also participate.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

1. Look out for the information you trust. 2. Try to possess more information about the products you want to purchase. 3. Education is crucial. Be curious. 4. Shared responsibility to tackle threats and opportunities connected to sustainable consumption in e-commerce.

5. Ensure that online markets are dealt with appropriately through regulation, enforcement and action by various actors. 6. Join the initiative – together with other companies as Amazon – the Climate Pledge in order to act together.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Our main conclusion we can make is that we need to take matters in own hands, all actors involved and we need to act. We need to be reflective and just to do our best. We, the stakeholders need to think what we are doing and what is the purpose of these actions.

Session Report (* deadline Monday 20 December) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

 

Report on the IGF workshop session “Sustainable consumption in e-commerce” held on December 10th, 2021, in Katowice

Rapporteur: Jolanta Zrałek, PhD the University of Economics in Katowice (as a substitute for Marta Grybś, PhD candidate).

Speakers:

  • Nils Behrndt, Acting Deputy Director-General in the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers at the European Commission,
  • Peter Andrews, Director, Consumer Rights - Innovation & Impact at the Consumers International,
  • Agustin Reyna, Director of Legal and Economic Affairs at The European Consumer Organisation, BEUC,
  • Marta Grybś-Kabocik, PhD, University of Economics in Katowice, Poland
    (as a substitute for prof. Sławomir Smyczek who was absent due to health issues),
  • Claire Scharwatt, Public Policy Manager on Sustainability in Amazon,
  • Maciej Czapliński, Counsel at the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection in Poland.

Moderators:

  • Martyna Derszniak-Noirjean, PhD, Director of the International Cooperation Office at the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection in Poland,
  • Karol Muż, Director of European Consumer Center in Poland.

A summary of the main takeaways of the session:

The discussion focused on the following questions introduced respectively by the moderators:

  1. What is the reason to transit into the sustainable consumption? What do consumers gain from this transition?
  2. How the e-environment can influence our sustainable behavior? What are the opportunities and threats of operating in the virtual environment?
  3. What can different actors do to enhance sustainability?

The speakers were introducing their comments one by one according to the round-table routine. Led by moderators, they displayed the discussed issues from different angles depending on their background. Thus the ultimate conclusions incorporate a combined vision of policymakers, NGOs, business and academia.

When it comes to the first, introducing question speakers' remarks show that green transition is a fundamental issue. Creating a more sustainable society is a matter of our survival. Purchasing more durable, better quality, environmentally friendly products benefits both today's consumers and future generations.

Although such commodities are already accessible on the markets and policymakers put efforts to introduce legal solutions pushing producers to meet high ecological standards, consumer awareness remains a problem.

As a result, the speakers agreed that educational efforts are of the highest importance and must be directed to consumers of different ages. Especially the younger generations are prone to undertake actions. Thus they may initiate fundamental changes in the lifestyles of the elderly as well.

Recognizing the relationships between e-commerce and sustainability, the speakers brainstormed to show both opportunities for the green transition and threats that work against the needed changes. There is no doubt that e-commerce creates the future of world trade, but its increase may result in both rising or dropping the sustainability of consumer behavior. The responsibility for the ultimate consequences of market digitalization should be shared between different actors. Their collaboration in creating favorable conditions for occurring sustainable behaviors and evoking such behaviors on the market is crucial.

The main opportunities that e-commerce brings to achieve zero-emission goals include better product choice, better comparison options, low costs that stimulate price-sensitive consumers to buy ecological products, reinforcing the sharing economy model by delivering online platforms for the exchange or resale of goods.

Considering suppliers, the ongoing digitalization brings the possibility of changing business models in line with the circular economy rules (if only the suppliers utilize green packaging solutions, low carbon footprint delivery methods, etc.). Considering the threats that digitalization may evoke, the most important issues concern misleading information, i.e. greenwashing that lowers consumers' trust.

The bigger number and accessibility of products may also lead e-consumers to bigger purchases and thus increase overconsumption. In this case, advanced technologies used by sellers to track e-consumers choices and personalized commercials also play a role here.

Introducing sustainable solutions, such as eco-friendly packaging or green delivery systems, challenges e-sellers and forces them to make the tradeoffs between profits and enhancing sustainable consumption. Consumers in developing countries may suffer from exclusion because of the lack of sustainable e-commerce. At least all consumers represent the discrepancy between their positive attitudes toward sustainable solutions and their unsustainable behaviors identified by researchers as an attitude-behavior gap.

The audience was encouraged to share their opinions on the discussed issues by the question: How empowered do you feel to shop online in a sustainable way? In the response, participants shared their remarks on how beneficial is the change into online buying also in terms of greater sustainability. It allows to trace the whole supply chain and evaluate how energy-consuming the delivery process can be. The idea of labeling the eco-efficiency of online processes similarly to the nutrition tables on food products would inevitably increase e-consumer awareness. Another good example of increasing e-consumer sustainability is to mainstream the idea of browser plug-ins that ask buyers if they really need the product before they tap the purchase button.

The final issue discussed by the speakers led to conclusions on what different actors can do to enhance sustainable consumption online. Disclosing the standpoint of European policy-makers leads to the conclusion that we should use the power of the single market and keep the right balance between a regulated environment and the right measure of empowerment to consumers. The adequate solution is the change toward introducing more durable, repairable products. Sometimes the decision of not to buy is also the best market choice.

The NGOs' task is to fight against misleading environmental claims, delivering better quality information and sustainable products. Another important task to fulfill is to increase the accessibility of sustainable internet platforms among less wealthy consumers and in developing countries. Business and local institutions should increase their creativity by searching for more and more sustainable solutions. For example, a good idea is to change from vans to cargo bikes or experiment with on-foot delivery. The responsibility for mainstreaming sustainable behaviors taken by academia reveals in the three fields. Firstly, there is a necessity to intensify research on sustainable consumption and recommend green solutions, e.g. suggesting nudging intervention programs to achieve more sustainable consumer behavior.

Secondly, a good solution is to encompass sustainability issues into different teaching programs or create independent courses dedicated to this topic, e.g. postgraduate ones. Thirdly, universities should become the patterns of sustainable solutions by taking green actions and engaging students to develop them.

Finally, to conclude the session, the speakers recommended consumers to get as much information as possible before they purchase, and to look out for the information they trust. The final remarks also included the need for collaboration between policy-makers, businesses, civil society and organizations. Also, good education was stressed as a way to introduce and mainstream more sustainable lifestyles and more sustainable business models both online and onsite.