ZWeR 2022, 225

RWS Verlag Kommunikationsforum GmbH & Co. KG, Köln RWS Verlag Kommunikationsforum GmbH & Co. KG, Köln 2199-1723 Zeitschrift für Wettbewerbsrecht ZWeR 2022 AufsätzeRoman Inderst* / Felix Rhiel** / Stefan Thomas***

Sustainability Agreements and Social Norms

Spurred by recent publications of National Competition Agencies, there is an ongoing debate on whether and, if so, how competition law and its enforcement shall give due consideration to concerns of sustainability, notably environmental sustainability. With respect to horizontal agreements, we define circumstances where sustainability concerns may indeed warrant a somewhat modified approach for the assessment of consumer welfare implications of a market related measure. We posit a feedback-effect on the willingness-to-pay for more sustainable products when a horizontal agreement leads other consumers to change their behavior. The underlying reason for this stems from the non-use value associated with sustainability and from its relation to social norms. In such scenarios, there can be a first-mover disadvantage for a firm who would unilaterally introduce a more sustainable product, which may justify horizontal cooperation. More generally, we argue that the construction of counterfactuals, in particular over a longer time horizon, may prove particularly challenging in a competitive assessment of sustainability claims. We also document the feedback effect arising from other consumers’ behavior with data that the Dutch Competition Authority gathered for its “Chicken of Tomorrow” case.

Contents

  • I. Introduction
  • II. Norm-based preferences for sustainable products
    • 1. Introduction
    • 2. Formalization
    • 3. Empirical illustration
  • III. Market failure and the potential of efficient horizontal agreements
  • IV. A legal framing of the concept
    • 1. Measuring sustainability agreements against consumer welfare
    • 2. Comparing different willingness-to-pay values
  • V. Concluding remarks
*
*)
Prof. Dr., Goethe University Frankfurt
**
**)
Associate Principal, Charles River Associates, München
***
***)
Prof. Dr., Eberhard Karls University Tübingen
We thank the Dutch Competition Authority (ACM), notably Theon von Dijk, for providing us with the data underlying the conjoint analysis in this article. We also thank Eftichios Sartzetakis and Anastasios Xepapadeas for discussions.

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