Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Climate change and consumer behaviour motivation
What motivates consumer behaviours that help mitigate climate change?
Climate change and global warming, often interchangeably used terms, both refer to the increase in greenhouse gases being released into the Earth’s atmosphere and the dramatic effect which this is having upon our climate ("Human contribution to climate change", 2010). The greenhouse effect is a natural process which occurs as greenhouse gases are amassed within the Earth’s atmosphere, absorbing and reflecting heat in order to balance our atmospheric composition and control the Earth’s temperature in order to sustain life ("Human contribution to climate change", 2010; "Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet", 2018). As a result of this, changes in climate have occurred naturally in previous centuries. However as well as being released naturally to maintain the Earth’s temperature, greenhouse gases can also be released through human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels for transportation purposes. Gases released through such human activity include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and halocarbons ("Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet", 2018). The release of these gases into the atmosphere has increased dramatically due to recent changes in human activity such as changes in human consumption and agriculture and especially through developments like the Industrial Revolution which saw a dramatic increase in the use of technologies relying upon fuel and energy ("Human contribution to climate change", 2010). Many experts argue that these changes in human activity have caused an imbalance of greenhouse gases and have therefore disrupted the Earth’s atmospheric composition, making our planet predominantly warmer than necessary and resulting in changes to regional and global climate patterns. For example, before the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide concentration was maintained between 260 to 280 parts per million, however due to the increase in deforestation, this strikingly increased to about 400 parts per million within 150 years and continues to grow ("Human contribution to climate change", 2010; "Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet", 2018). Such increases in greenhouse gases also increases the likelihood of natural disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, rising water levels, and the extinction of species due to loss of habitat. Although these impacts cannot be reversed, or stopped, close monitoring of human activities could reduce them.
Consumers hold a lot of power in determining how we address climate change mitigation and prevent further environmental damage. Consumers through their buying power, influence the extent to which our industries prioritise environmentally friendly and sustainable policies which will reduce our negative impact on the climate. An individual’s or a community’s consumer behaviour may be motivated by their activities, engagements, and attitudes. Some academics believe that irresponsible consumer lifestyles enable the negative effects of climate change (Olander & Thogersen, 1995). Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to discuss key motivational theories that contribute to consumer behaviour and how applying these theories can help to mitigate climate change. In order to demonstrate this, the concept of green consumer behaviour will be discussed. The following sections will explore green consumerism amongst individuals and how this can best be explained through the theory of planned behaviour and an extension of the theory of reasoned action. It is proposed that these discussions will inform policy makers, government officials, and other organisations whose purpose is to fight global warming.
What is consumer behaviour?
Consumer behaviour refers to behaviours consumers exhibit as they spend their time, money and efforts on the purchase of certain products, uses, and services, whilst deciding to avoid others (Quester, Pettigrew, Kopanidis, Rao Hill & Hawkins, 2014; Schiffman, O'Cass, Paladino & Carlson, 2013). This can include individual consumers or households who can influence and be influenced by regulatory public policies. The discipline of consumer behaviour strives to understand the motivational factors behind why individuals decide to spend on certain purchases over others. Particular motivating factors may be identified by analysing what the product, service or consumption is, why, when and where it is being purchased, how often the individual or household is buying it, how often they use it, how they may evaluate it before, during and after its use, how the product is disposed of and its influence on future expenditures. One of the most prominent motivational theories in this field which are used to analyse and understand consumer behaviour are the theory of planned behaviour. This theory will be discussed in more detail throughout the chapter.
An individual’s consumption behaviour can be deemed a reflection of their lifestyle and provides much information about their impact on the environment. The nature of these motivated behaviours can have both positive and negative effects on the environment. Therefore by studying the way in which different consumer behaviours are motivated, we can potentially influence the overall environmental impact which consumers have by influencing their purchasing choices.
Consumers can negatively impact the environment if they choose products and services that produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions; either during the production procedure, during use, or when disposed of such as wastes that are not biodegradable and cannot be reused or recycled. These waste products can cause a buildup of unhelpful substances that further contribute to greenhouse gas emissions as they breakdown or occupy natural habitats, disrupting their sustenance and the livelihood of its surrounding species ("Human contribution to climate change", 2010). On the other hand, by choosing products which are reusable and have a reduced carbon footprint through their production processes, an an individual can consciously control their consumer behaviour in order to benefit the environment and help mitigate climate change. This practice of choosing to engage in behaviours which have a positive impact on the environment is called Green Consumerism.
Green Consumer Behaviour
Green Consumers aim to increase the Earth’s sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They do so by monitoring their consumptions to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they release into the external environment (Gadenne, Sharma, Kerr, & Smith, 2011; Choi & Cheng, 2015; Vermier & Verbeke, 2008). It is believed that engagement in this sustainable lifestyle could help to mitigate the effects of climate change. Green consumer behaviour is prominently exhibited in three different produce industries; energy, fashion, and food.
In the context of energy conservation, green consumers consciously seek to purchase energy efficient electrical products, along with recyclable paper, glass and plastics. This reduces energy use and promotes environmental sustainability, through the use of renewable energy sources and electricity conservation (Gadenne, Sharma, Kerr, & Smith, 2011).
Within the fashion industry, garments can be deemed sustainable when brands and individual’s monitor and consider its manufacture process, its design, and sourcing (Choi & Cheng, 2015). These clothing can be favourable if they are made from quality organic cotton, recycled cotton, recycled polyester, or vegetable tanned organic leather, and also if low amounts of water were used during its development. It is also preferred that the products be long-lasting, have minimal packaging, and produce low amounts of waste during transportation. Some green consumers may even opt to donating their unwanted clothes to charity, and also purchase used clothing themselves.
Organic Food Consumption
Regarding food consumption, green consumers often seek organic foods that are locally sourced, are fair-trade products and are products which have not been chemically altered, use ecological packaging and that are sustainably decomposable. It is believed that, along with health benefits, opting to consume these foods will improve the quality of the environment due to its low amounts of wastage and greenhouse gas emissions (Vermier & Verbeke, 2008).
Green consumers can also often lobby and succeed to impact public policies and business practices. These policies can further influence the growth of green consumerism and therefore increase the amount of people engaging in behaviours which will prevent the further destruction and negative environmental impacts of climate change. Understanding the motivational factors which come into play when consumers are choosing which products and services to purchase, is therefore incredibly important in strengthening and promoting green consumerism.
Motivational Theory for Green Consumers
Motivation is a concept and field of psychology that focuses on understanding the predisposing factors that underlie an individual’s decision to behave a certain way, why the behaviour may persist, and the behaviour’s intensity (Petri, 1991). These concepts are often also studied in the marketing field in order to understand motivations behind a consumer’s purchasing choices (Kanfer, 2009).
Theory of Planned Behaviour
The Theory of Planned Behaviour is predominantly well known as a motivation theory used to understand consumer behaviour. It has particularly been used to understand the motivations behind particular green consumer decisions and green consumer behaviours in general. Therefore, the Theory of Planned Behaviour is the theory that is deemed to be most applicable in understanding green consumer behaviour.
The Theory of Planned Behaviour was devised by Icek Ajzen, who based it on his Theory of Reasoned Action (Yadav & Pathak, 2017; Paço & Lavrador, 2017). The Theory of Reasoned Action proposes that before an individual engages in a behaviour, they must first have intentions to participate in that behaviour. These intentions are persuaded by two components; attitude, and subjective norm. The Theory of Planned Behaviour extends this theory with an additional component called perceived behavioural control (Yadav & Pathak, 2017). The greater the influence of these three components upon a behavioural intention, the more likely an individual will be to carry out that behaviour, especially if the three factors are congruent with each other.
Attitude refers to how positively or negatively an individual may feel towards a certain behaviour. This feeling can be influenced by what belief the individual may hold towards the outcome of engaging in the behaviour. If the outcome is favourable to them, it will be viewed positively, incentivising their behavioural intention, and increasing their likelihood to partake in the behaviour. If the outcome is not favourable, it will be perceived negatively and decrease their likelihood to partake in the behaviour (Yadav & Pathak, 2017; Coleman, Bahnan, Kelkar & Curry, 2011).
Within the context of green consumer behaviour, in order for a consumer to engage in green consumerism, there would need to be positive beliefs and attributes that they associated with a sustainable lifestyle. In order for this to occur, they would first need to be aware of the effects of climate change and its relationship with human lifestyles, and then be prepared to make conscious consumer decisions accordingly, by purchasing green products.
On several occasions, research on the application of the attitude component to green consumerism, has found a positive relationship between environmental attitudes, behavioural intentions and ecological purchases. Akehurst, Afonso, Gonçalves (2012) found that consumers were more likely to effectively purchase green products if they were conscious of the Earth's sensitive state. Gadenne et al. (2011) also evaluated consumers’ beliefs and attitude towards environmental issues, and found that their beliefs strongly correlated with the consumers’ electricity and energy usage. This was also evident in studies considering food consumption which found that internalised concerns for the environment increased the likelihood of organic food purchases (Vermier & Verbeke, 2008). These findings demonstrate how individuals cannot be expected to engage in green consumer behaviours if they do not believe that human consumption and behaviours influence climate change or if perhaps they do not even believe climate change to be an issue.
Reviews of studies considering attitudes towards sustainable fashion have also found a majority of findings to propose a strong relationship between consumer attitudes and purchasing choices (Vermier & Verbeke, 2008). However, some also suggest that there is an attitude-behaviour gap that exists within green consumer behaviour, as some studies display a negative relationship, or no relationship at all. This is because some consumers have been found to have positive beliefs, attitudes and intentions with regards to ecological consumerism, but have not been found to engage in the behaviour. This suggests that attitude alone cannot influence individuals to be green consumers. Factors which are important to consider include the high prices of sustainable clothing and organic foods and whether these products are less available or inconvenient to purchase.
However this does not diminish the importance of attitude as a component. Without a positive belief and attitude preceding a behaviour, the behaviour lacks incentive. The attitude – behaviour gap only highlights the importance of the other two components that influence an individual's behavioural intention, and behaviour. Situational variables such as cost, availability, and convenience are considered within the perceived behavioural control component, which will be discussed later. It is suggested that government officials and campaign organisers should strive to increase people’s knowledge and sensitivity for a better environment and propose practical lifestyle solutions in order to create better attitudes towards engaging in green consumer behaviour (Leonidou, Leonidou, & Kvasova, 2010).
Subjective norm can be defined as what one believes to be the norm of their society, and how willing they are to comply or defy to those norms, and to what extent (Yadav & Pathak, 2017; Coleman, Bahnan, Kelkar & Curry, 2011). What behaviour and behavioural outcome is favoured by an individual’s community, or their significant relationships? These beliefs can influence an individual's behavioural intentions and behavioural engagement.
Green Consumers would need to believe that the community that they identify with views green consumption positively, engages in green consumption themselves or at least supports their green consumer behaviour. They could also be influenced by their societal norms to be a green cosumer. Otherwise, the consumer would need to be self-motivated enough to defy the community’s norms, rather than comply.
Research in this area has found a strong relationship between subjective norm and behavioural engagement for green consumers. But the strength has been observed in different ways.
Gadenne’s research in energy conservation behaviour found that as more and more communities, companies and industries are becoming environmentally aware and conscious, energy conservation behaviours is becoming widely accepted. This is further supplemented as companies introduce customers to new renewable energy products guaranteed to be efficient, hence, promoting conservation behaviours. This is understable as societal values and morals can shape an individual's own mindset and lifestyle.
When an individual values a community, they aspire to portray themselves positively to that community, and uphold their belongingness. This influence can sometimes interfere with an individual’s desired lifestyle choices. This is evident with regards to the fashion industry as people often feel pressured to dress a certain way and follow certain trends within their communities (Lundblad & Davies, 2015).
Therefore, green consumers tend to be motivated to defy these negative pressures and are more self-dependent and self-driven in their pursuit of a sustainable lifestyle, particularly with regards to their clothing purchases. This suggests that that social norms alone cannot influence consumer behaviour, and in some instances, a strong societal influence may also hinder it, highlighting the influence of a strong behavioural attitude.
It is proposed that when striving to develop a community of green consumers, government and business officials should continue the process of normalising the lifestyle. They should also campaign for green consumers to have confidence and to self-express, influencing this form of self-expression to eventually become the norm (Pickett‐Baker, & Ozaki, 2008). Sustainable fashion should also, particularly, be better promoted.
Perceived Behavioural Control
Before the perceived behavioural control component of this theory was establish, it was evident that the components of Attitude and Subjective norm were not reliable as precursors for behavioural intention and behavioural action (Yadav & Pathak, 2017). It was soon discerned that this was because they did not account for situational factors that may arise outside the scope of an individual’s volitional control. Therefore, the perceived behavioural control component was included to address this gap. By recognising this crucial contributive factor to behavioural motivation has enhanced the efficiency of theory’s framework and predictability of behaviour.
For green consumers, it is important that they believe they are capable of persevering througha sustainable behaviour, in order to establish behavioural intention and engagement. These capabilities may include factors such as the cost effectiveness of green products, their availability, and convenience of the purchase, all of which are issues that were mentioned earlier in this chapter. It is evident that this component have been found to have a strong, positive relationship with green consumerism, and the purchase of green products (Gadenne, Sharma, Kerr, & Smith, 2011; Vermier & Verbeke, 2008; Paul, Modi, & Patel, 2016).
Research in thisarea have been consistently positive in both energy conservation, sustainable fashion and organic food industry. This suggests that businesses and government officials should work together to address situational issues that maybe hindering an individual from a green lifestyle, by increasing the availability of green products, and sell them under reasonable prices.
Green Consumer Quiz
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The negative effects of climate change are detrimental for the Earth’s well being and sustainability. These effects only continue to grow. It is evident that as human behaviour and consumer lifestyles change, they also have a great impact on the effects of climate change. When an individual seeks to life a consciously sustainable lifestyle, that promotes ecological purchases, they can be referred to as a green consumer.
A green consumer lifestyle can be influenced by considering the Theory of Planned Behaviour which considers components that influence an individuals'behavioural intentions, which precede their behavioural engagements. These components include attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioural control.
Attitude addresses and considers the beliefs of a consumer as an individual, and what may incentivise their behavioural decisions. To influence green consumerism, it is important to consider what the consumer’s beliefs are towards climate change and its relationship to human activity? What are their beliefs and attitudes towards green products?
Subjective norm considers the beliefs of a consumer as a member of society that has behavioural norm which may influence their behavioural intentions. To influence green consumerism, it is important to consider how they identify with their community? To what extent do they wish to comply or defy their societal norms?
Percievedbehavioural control seeks to identify situational barriers that a consumer may face in their desires to partake in certain behaviours. It considers the beliefs a consumer may have on their capability of participating in a behaviour. To influence green consumerism, it is important to consider factors such as cost and convenience.
For a behaviour to materialise, it is important that these three components be congruent with each other, and do not hinder each other. Therefore, to encourage the growth of green consumer behaviour, consumers need to be knowledgeable on the impacts of climate change, it’s relationship human behaviour and consumerism, engaging in green consumer behaviour should be normalised, and accessibility to green produce should be convenient, and cost effective.
- Climate change
- Consumer behaviour
- Sustainable consumer behaviour
- Theory of Reasoned Action (Wikipedia)
- Theory of Planned Behaviour (Wikipedia)
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