Research news

What influences environmentally and socially responsible sustainable consumer behaviour?

Photo by Tim Foster

Publish Date: 28.02.2022

Category: Our contribution to sustainable development goals

Sustainable development goals: 1 No poverty, 5 Gender equality, 8 Decent work and economic growth, 10 Reduced inequalities, 11 Sustainable cities and communities, 12 Responsible consumption and production, 16 Peace, justice and strong institutions (Indicators)

By selecting the right products, consumers can have a positive impact on the environment and society, leaving behind a minimal environmental and social footprint. We can achieve a minimal environmental footprint by selecting environmentally friendly products with the labels eco, green, bio, recycled, and so on. In turn, we contribute to a smaller social footprint by selecting products that are produced locally or by companies that help people in distress, have a fair-trade label, and so on.  

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Figure 1: Environmental and social consumer challenges. Source: UL EF.

Sustainable development meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Research on sustainable consumption shows that purchase intentions are strongly defined by one’s views, personal intentions and past purchases. This strand of research usually examines environmental and social issues separately. Vesna Žabkar and Maja Hosta from the University of Ljubljana's School of Economics and Business studied the influences on consumer behaviour in Slovenia, which affects both the environment and society.

They first conducted interviews with ten consumers aged twenty-five to sixty-five years old, who did not show any particular concern for the environment or society. They used the open-questionnaire method to study the consumers' responsibility towards themselves and the natural and social environment, and their motivation to engage in the overall process of responsible behaviour (from concern to action). The researchers established that consumers were experiencing a series of internal conflicts, such as between a concern for nature and concern for society. For example, a 49 -year-old woman commented: "Factories must operate so that people can earn a living, but this harms the environment, so it's a vicious circle." It also turned out that people prioritise their own interests over their concern for nature and society. As a 40-year-old woman said: "Why would I spend an enormous amount of time cleaning with eco-friendly products if I can do this in five minutes with a toxic product."

The qualitative part of research was followed by a quantitative study using an online panel. The researchers used a representative sample of 426 Slovenian consumers to study their environmentally and socially responsible sustainable behaviour and determine the importance of the consumers' concern or attitude towards sustainability, personal norms, ethical ideologies and information availability. They found that personal norms, concern, and ethical ideologies have a stronger impact on socially responsible sustainable consumer behaviour than social norms, perceived consumer control or the perceived effectiveness of sustainable behaviour. The researchers argue that if both types of behaviour are compared, socially responsible sustainable behaviour depends more heavily on perceived behavioural control and personal norms than environmentally responsible behaviour. This can be explained by the fact that socially responsible behaviour is only just entering the lives of consumers and is not as widespread yet as environmentally responsible sustainable behaviour. Accessibility of information is an important factor in both types of behaviour. The reason why consumers often fail to behave in a sustainable manner may lie in the complexity of and problems associated with finding a balance between what is good for the environment and what is good for society.

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Figure 2: Sustainable consumer behaviour (theory of planned behaviour, extended model). Source: UL EF.

The research findings, which were presented in an article published in the Journal of Business Ethics in January 2021, show that in transition countries behaviour towards the environment is changing, and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability. This is exceptionally timely topic, which is also demonstrated by the fact that the article had already recorded over thirty citations by December 2021 and was selected as one of the most outstanding research achievements in the social sciences and humanities, with the designation “Excellent in Science 2021”. The selection is made every year by the Slovenian Research Agency.




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