Anti-frizz shampoos, whitening therapy toothpaste, body lotion, which makes your skin soft– there’s nothing, that drugstores don’t offer its’ customers. No matter which beauty “problem“ arises – there will always immediately be a perfect beauty product-solution. Sounds great and there’s no catch in it? There absolutely is. The major part of shampoos, shower gels & Co. contain critical ingredients, which (may) harm your health by f.e. causing irritations or even be carcinogenic. Many ingredients have not been tested thoroughly and so their possible (long-term) effects on human health are not entirely clear. (CodeCheck 2020; Umweltbundesamt 2020)
What has been tested is, that especially microbeads, which appear amongst others in many sanitary and cosmetic products, are very harmful for the environment. The plastic particles are so small, that they can’t be filtered out of the water in purification plants. The result? Microbeads, acting like a magnet for other harmful substances, end up in lakes, rivers and in the ocean. Then they are absorbed by fish and other marine animals and end up in our food chain. (Zinkant 2016)
But how can this problem be solved? How can more awareness be raised for this problem? How could individual’s consumption behavior be pushed into a more sustainable, environment friendly direction, by consuming no (or at least less) products containing harmful substances like microbeads?
A famous concept in the field of Behavioral Economics, which targets to influence individual’s choice architecture into a certain direction, is the nudging concept, first introduced by the professors Thaler and Sunstein. (Thaler et al. 2008) As the economist Daniel Kahneman states, the human brain works with two systems: the automatic one, which makes us act and decide reflexively and instinctively and the deliberate one, which reflects our actions and does a cost-benefit analysis. Since the majority of human decisions is made by the automatic and subconscious system, the nudging Concept targets at this system. A nudge wants to lead people’s choice into the “right” direction, without forbidding an option. (Kahneman 2011; Kuhlmann 2015; Beck 2014)
An example for a nudge introduced by the state would be the warning signs next to the highways, which show for instance injured people and sentences like “Because the other one had a beer”. Without forbidding fast driving, people should be influenced by the signs and therefore voluntarily decide to drive slowly and carefully. The nudge helps to push them subconsciously to the right behavior.
In our case of harmful substances in cosmetics, the inventors of the application CodeCheck have also developed a kind of nudge. The app is able to scan the barcode of cosmetics (and groceries) and shows the potential buyer, if the product contains harmful substances for health and/or the environment. The ingredients are – depending on the risk – split into the categories “harmless” (green letters), “critical” (orange letters) and “very critical” (red letters). Depending on the products’ ingredients a green/red circle appears and makes the share of harmless and critical ingredients visible. To get further information about a certain substance and its effects on health and environment, the consumers can simply click on it’s name.
So CodeCheck wants to alter people’s decision without forbidding the option to buy the product of interest, it targets the automatic system of human mind – even if in this case it’s not a perfect nudge, as CodeCheck users deliberately decide to use the app, so the process afterwards doesn’t happen absolutely subsconsciously. The circle makes people aware of harmful substances. When seeing many red marked ingredients, the consumer might think twice about buying the product or not and be more aware of the problem of microbeads etc..
Of course, not everybody knows CodeCheck (or comparable apps), neither might everybody care about this topic. To reach a long-term individual transformation and encourage more people to buy products without harmful substances, the problem of microbeads & Co. has to be discussed more frequently in public. Additionally, if the app would be more famous, environmental & health friendly products could be labelled with a green (CodeCheck-checked) circle and be placed centrally in the shelves of drugstores. Then we would also have the subsconscious nudging effect as consumers could, without deliberately using an app, directly recognize green products. He or she might then softly be pushed to the “right” decision.
Beck, Hanno. 2014. “Behavioral Economics. Eine Einführung.” Springer Gabler, Wiesbaden.
CodeCheck. 2020. Available under: https://www.codecheck.info/hintergrund/kosmetika .
Kahneman, Daniel. 2011. “Schnelles Denken, Langsames Denken.” Pantheon, München.
Kuhlmann, Nico. 20.01.2015. “Der sanfte staatliche Schubs in die “richtige” Richtung.” Available online under: https://www.lto.de/recht/hintergruende/h/nudging-regierung-merkel-verhaltenskonomie-rechtsschutz/ .
Thaler, Richard H./Sunstein, Cass R..2008. “Nudge. Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” Yale University Press, New Haven/London.
Umweltbundesamt. 21.02.2020. “Was ist Mikroplastik?” Available online under: https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/service/uba-fragen/was-ist-mikroplastik.
Zinkant, Kathrin. 01.08.2016. “Mikroplastik: Wie ein Magnet für Schadstoffe.” Available online under: https://www.sueddeutsche.de/wissen/umwelt-mikroplastik-wie-ein-magnet-fuer-schadstoffe-1.3103999.
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