Sustainable consumption and marketing

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

Sustainable development in global food markets is hindered by the discrepancy between positive consumer attitudes towards sustainable development or sustainability and the lack of corresponding sustainable consumption by a majority of consumers. Apparently for many (light user) consumers the ‘importance’ of ‘sustainability’ has a meaning that is not directly translated into purchases.

The cognitive and motivational perceptual structures of sustainability among light users of sustainable products are empirically compared to the Brundlandt definition (needs of future generations) and the Triple-P-Baseline (people, planet, prosperity) definition of sustainability. Results show that light users cognitively can distinguish between the social and temporal dimensions of the Brundlandt definition, as well as the people, planet and prosperity dimensions of the Triple-P definition of sustainability. In the motivational structure of light users of sustainable products, all attributes that do not offer direct and personal benefits are collapsed into a single dimension. This single dimension explains purchases more parsimoniously than a more complex structure, and is itself explained by a set of psychographic predictors that appears to be related to identity.

Perceived relevance and determinance are two distinct constructs, underlying the overall concept of attribute importance. Attribute relevance is commonly measured by self-reported importance in a Likert type scale. In order to measure attribute determinance a survey based measure is developed. In an empirical survey (N=1543) determinance of sustainability related product attributes is measured through a set of forced choice items and contrasted to self-reported relevance of those attributes. In line with expectations, a priori determinance predicts sustainable food choice more efficiently than perceived relevance. Determinance of sustainability related product attributes can be predicted by future temporal orientation, independently of relevance of these attributes.

These results support an interpretation of the attitude to behaviour gap in terms of construal level theory, and this theory allows for testable hypotheses on low construal motivators that should induce light users to purchase sustainable products. Sustainable consumption is viewed as a dilemma between choices for immediate (low construal) benefits and choices that avoid long-term collective (high construal) harm.

Identity theory suggests that self-confirmation could be a driving motive behind the performance of norm-congruent sustainable behaviour. Through identity people may acquire the intrinsic motivation to carry out pro-environmental behaviour. This view is tested in two empirical studies in The Netherlands. The first study shows that sustainable identity predicts sustainable preference, and that the effect of identity on preference is partly mediated by self-confirmation motives. The second study confirms that sustainable identity influences the determinance of sustainable attributes, and through this determinance has an impact on sustainable product choice. This effect is partly mediated by stated relevance of these attributes.

Sustainable certification signals positive sustainable quality of a product, but fail to create massive demand for such products. Based on regulatory focus theory and prospect theory it is argued that negative signalling of low sustainable quality would have a stronger effect on the adoption of sustainable products than the current positive signalling of high sustainable quality. The effects of positive vs. negative signalling of high vs. low sustainable quality on attitude and preference formation are tested in three experimental studies. Results show (1) that negative labelling has a larger effect on attitude and preference than positive labelling, (2) that the effect of labelling is enhanced by regulatory fit, and (3) that the effect of labelling is mediated by personal norms, whereas any additional direct effect of environmental concern on preference formation is negligible.

Overall the present thesis suggests that the attitude to behaviour gap in sustainable consumption can be explained as a conflict between high construal motives for the abstract and distant goals of sustainable development and the low construal motives that drive daily consumption. Activating low construal motives for sustainable consumption, be it intrinsic motives to affirm a sustainable self-concept or loss aversion motives, increases sustainable consumer behaviour. Applying these insights to marketing decision making opens a new line of research into the individual, corporate, and institutional drivers that may contribute to the sustainable development of global food markets.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • van Trijp, Hans, Promotor
Award date7 Mar 2016
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789462576490
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • consumer behaviour
  • marketing
  • consumption
  • household consumption
  • market research
  • decision making
  • behavioural changes
  • behaviour
  • economic psychology
  • sustainability

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