Responsible consumption: interview with Fabien Durif

Fabien Durif, co-founder and director of the UQAM ESG Obsersatoire de la Consommation Responsable

How responsible is consumption in Quebec? That’s what we asked Fabien Durif, the co-founder and director of the UQAM ESG Observatoire de la Consommation Responsable (observatory for responsible consumption).

Every year since 2010, Fabien and his team have conducted a study to measure Quebecers’ responsible consumption behaviours when they either buy or don’t buy something and after they’ve made a purchase—the Baromètre de la consommation responsable (responsible consumption barometer).

What is the responsible consumption barometer, and how is the study carried out?

Fabien: The study’s objective is to have a tool for measuring the intensity of responsible consumption practices, including purchase behaviours (e.g., environmental, local, fair trade consumption), non-purchase behaviours (e.g., environmentally friendly consumption, animal protection, sustainable transportation) and post-purchase behaviours (e.g., composting, recycling, collaborative consumption). That tool is called the Indice de consommation responsable (responsible consumption index). We provide a snapshot of responsible consumption in Quebec, in which we can see, among other things, Quebecers’ preferences, attitudes, behaviours and motivations/deterrents concerning responsible consumption. It’s an overall picture and the only one of its kind.

What conclusions can you draw from these four years of analysis? How responsible is consumption in Quebec?

Fabien: This year, for the first time, we saw a major change in the responsible consumption index in Quebec (the 2013 index is 65.4, which is 3.1 points higher than the 2012 index). In the first three years, we noticed a stagnancy—some indicators rose, others fell slightly—so it’s possible to say that in 2013, consumption has never been more responsible in Quebec. Will that continue? That’s always hard to predict and will have to be assessed. One thing that’s certain is that in Quebec, like other regions, two behaviours increased considerably: local consumption (up 4.1 points from 2010 to 2013; index of 73.2 in 2013; 2nd most common behaviour in Quebec behind recycling) and environmental consumption (up 4.7 points between 2012 and 2013; index of 69.3 in 2013).

Do you think Quebecers are well informed about green products?

Fabien: Today, what keeps most people from consuming responsibly is the poor quality and lack of information about the environmental impact of so-called green products. People say there’s little information and that what’s available isn’t relevant or clear to them. This frequently deters the most responsible consumers, whereas less responsible consumers are more often deterred by price. Also, we saw in our studies that consumers don’t necessarily seek out that information; they expect the information to be given to them and for it to be easily accessible. They won’t necessarily go out and find it themselves, which makes things complicated for brands.

Do you have any advice to guide consumers?

Fabien: Purchasing behaviours have to be changed gradually. Consumers should start by making changes that are easy, and that work with their tastes and what they’re interested in. For example, people who like organic products might later be drawn to local and/or fair trade products—it’s a chain reaction. There are connections between certain categories and certain responsible consumption behaviours. Becoming a responsible consumer overnight is impossible, and no one’s perfect! It’s a gradual process. Responsible consumption has become really broad, and there are lots of different behaviours and profiles. Someone who embraces collaborative consumption may not be someone who composts. People’s individual behaviours should be respected, not penalized. Changing behaviours should be done by focusing on the positive.

What role do companies play in responsible consumption?

Fabien: They play a major role. For example, some companies release eco-friendly products, but they don’t try to change consumer behaviour, to promote eco-friendly products in general or to get consumers to make eco-friendly choices. Education is achieved through communicating, raising awareness and sharing information. Companies also play a role among governments and stakeholders as a driver of behavioural change. Their role is much bigger than we think, and if we look at the statistics from the responsible consumption barometer, we see that Quebec consumers give the largest share of environmental protection responsibility to companies. Consumers expect companies to have social and ethical values, and to respect their employees and customers. The biggest challenges for companies today are sharing information about what they do (their environmental efforts), being transparent (on the eco-friendly attributes of their products/services) and having consumers believe what they say, because people don’t necessarily believe the information that companies give them.

Where do you see responsible consumption in 10 years?

Fabien: It’s hard to say, because there are trends in responsible consumption: fair trade, green, local, collaborative, etc. These are underlying trends that are pretty much specific to given periods. Right now, local consumption is on the rise, as is collaborative and second-hand consumption. Using is becoming more important than owning for more and more consumers. Second-hand consumption is growing through the popularity of web platforms such as Kijiji, for example. A lot of people want to move away from the traditional system of consumption. These three behaviours—local, collaborative and second-hand consumption—have become more common especially since the 2008 world economic crisis.

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About the Author
Anne-Marie Gingras

A Communications Advisor with Cascades since 2011, Anne-Marie now also fulfills the position of Community Manager. She holds a BA in Public Communication from the Université Laval and a Certificate in Marketing from the Université de Trois-Rivières. As Community Manager, she is in constant contact with the public, sharing the company's newest innovations and reporting on its involvement within the communities it calls home. "I am very pleased to have the opportunity to work for a company that is responsible, respectful and transparent. It gives me a great sense of pride! Through social media, we are now able to interact with the population and we value this close contact. Cascades is an organization that encourages creativity and initiative, which allows us to develop in a very stimulating work environment."

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