An Eclectic Approach to Understanding Sustainable Consumption: Implications for Marketing and Public Policy

Statement of Research Focus

This session explores different stages and different types of sustainable consumer behavior,consumption that simultaneously optimizes the environmental, social, and economic consequences of acquisition, use and disposition in order to meet the needs of both current and future generations” (p. 1227) (Phipps et al., 2013), with an eclectic approach that brings together a rich mix of perspectives drawn from different disciplines, theories, actors, and contexts. Dialogue at the intersection of knowledge structures will revolve around current approaches and future research directions, leading to policy and marketing implications, in an effort to find consensus on what is inherently a highly complex topic.

Solutions that purport to address widespread ecological problems are deemed to be eclectic and multifarious, while demanding significant attitude (Gifford and Sussman, 2012) and behavioral changes (Steg and Vlek, 2009) from individuals and more responsible human actions. Although sustainable consumption has become a research interest of many scholars, the underlying causes of these types of behaviors have not been understood fully because of complexity of decision making process for various types and in various stages of sustainable consumption. Furthermore, research on sustainable consumption may involve a variety of paradigmatic approaches, such as ethical, economical, psychological, and moral depending on the types and stages of the consumption behavior. Research also shows that different theoretical frameworks and models, such as values-beliefs-norms, motivation–opportunity–abilities, norm activation, cognition-affect-conation framework, activism, theory of planned behavior, and goal-framing theory, could be adopted to explain different types of sustainable behaviors. Also, it brings upon a variety of disciplines together, such as management, microeconomics, macroeconomics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, humanities, arts, environmental psychology, and ecology. All these multiplicity of approaches could be further complicated by different contexts, such as international, regional, geographical, and cultural. In response, Steg and Vlek (2009) and Onel and Mukherjee (2015) suggest that different types of sustainable behaviors are related to various types of causal factors, and need to be analyzed separately. Thus, while identifying the facilitating factors of various types of sustainable consumption behavior is important, comparative studies are extremely limited in extant research and constitute a significant research gap.

Goal of Track

Our track looks at the causes and processes that underlie sustainable consumption from an interdisciplinary perspective. In other words, our goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of sustainable consumer behavior and develop a conceptual framework with a holistic approach. For instance, what are the predicting factors of specific stages of sustainable consumption (i.e., purchase, usage, and disposal) and are there any relationship between different stages of behavior, do they affect each other? Also, raised by Phipps et al. (2013), do the individuals who are participating in recycling behavior make more environmentally inclined purchase decisions? We aim to cover not only the different stages but also different types of pro-environmental actions, such as environmental activism, social entrepreneurship, environmental citizenship, non-activist behaviors in the public sphere, etc.

We also recognize that while individual behavioral changes from the consumer perspective are important and necessary research area of focus to attain sustainability, they are not sufficient. These changes can never take place if we do not consider all the other stakeholders that are potentially relevant to systems well-being. For example, we may have consumers who are high in their willingness to engage in recycling behavior in a society, however, their actual behavior would be highly dependent on governmental actions, such as providing recycling facilities. Thus, we recognize the necessity of a macro approach to sustainable consumption that the issue should be addressed from different stakeholder perspectives within complex and changing contexts. What could companies, governments, policy makers, employees, NGOs do to help achieve sustainable consumption of individuals in societies? How can they be transformed through strategic changes at the individual, community, government and/or societal levels? Scholars can contribute to this vitally important project by suggesting approaches, providing independent analyses of existing efforts, and offering interdisciplinary expertise.

While we explore the relevant concepts, we will do so within the theoretical and problem-based contexts the participants of our session bring to the table. We are not focused on a particular behavior, but instead, on the meanings, processes, and outcomes of different types of behaviors from variety of perspectives. We expect to attract participants who are interested sustainable consumption that occur at any stage of consumer behavior process, such as purchase, usage, or post-use. Beyond participants who explicitly consider and study these behaviors, we hope to attract researchers whose work produces outcomes relevant to sustainable consumption. Prior to the conference we invite both junior and senior people with an interest or expertise in sustainable consumption to join us in this research. We welcome scholars from a variety of disciplines. To encourage textured, impactful discussion, submissions of any methodology will be considered equally.

Desired outcomes from this conference include the development of a conceptual paper based on findings from case analysis, recommendations for policy makers, creation of teaching cases for the TCR list-serve, and future research projects that may emerge from discussion as a result of the conference.

Tentative Track Schedule

Preconference

Our conference team will develop a conceptual framework for understanding of sustainable consumer behavior with a holistic approach and identify important topics for theoretical and/or empirical research. Researchers with a demonstrated interest or prior work in the track domain will be selected to participate. We will seek to ensure diversity in stage of career, discipline, methodology and paradigm used among the participants, as well as diversity in geographic location.

Once participants are selected (approximately 6-8), the Co-chairs will set up and moderate a webpage or message board for the purpose of facilitating ongoing discussions among the participants about possible research topics of interest within the track domain, relevant research findings, and areas for potential future research collaboration. This will also help us to build a strong foundation for the team. Co-chairs will identify and post a set of 8-10 foundational papers dealing with understanding sustainable consumer behavior that each participant will read during the fall. Each participant will be invited to suggest one or two additional key papers that all should read.

Two weeks prior to the conference, each participant will be invited to share one page summary of his/her own research contributions on the conference track theme, including main ideas, theory, and methods. We invite each track participant to engage in this preconference work so that we can achieve a high productivity together at the conference venue.

Conference Day 1

Morning session

  • 9:00 – 9:45 Introductory Session: Each participant will present some of his/her own research findings (5 minutes each) related to the core topic of the track. Although not mandatory, this sharing of relevant research or research ideas of theirs (completed or in progress) of all participants will be encouraged. This will also serve to introduce session participants to one another.
  • 10:00 – 12:00 Discussion: The focal domains of interest will provide the starting point for dialogue on the complex sustainable consumption behavior. In this session, participants will be paired based on their research interest and will be encouraged to provide constructive feedback and comments to improve each other’s ideas. While we explore the relevant concepts, we will do so within the theoretical and problem-based contexts the participants bring to the table.

Afternoon session

  • 1:00 – 5:00 Synthesis and Conceptual Framework Development: The academic participants will summarize/synthesize/discuss what was learned during the morning session. The goal for this session is to develop research priorities and a conceptual integration of the problem from the perspective of transformative consumer research.

Conference Day 2

Morning session 

  • 9:00 – 12:00 Detailing Policy Implications and Paper Preparations: This last session’s goal is to have an outline for a conceptual paper and discuss public policy implications of the conceptual framework. Our intention is to develop a preliminary structure and/or a draft paper for the TCR special issue in the Journal of Business Research as a result of this dialogical conference.

Post-conference

After the conference, the Co-chairs will monitor and manage the process of preparing the manuscript for submission to Journal of Business Research special issue. This process will include several rounds of discussions and editing among interested parties. In addition to the JBR submission, the Co-chairs will continue to facilitate group discussion based on the framework developed during the TCR conference on the track’s website/message board for further research.

 

Please contact the corresponding track chairs for questions about this track:

Dr. Naz Onel

Assistant Professor of Business Studies at Stockton University.

Dr. Avinandan Mukherjee

Professor of Marketing and Dean of the College of Business at Clayton State University.

References

  • Gifford, R. and Sussman (2012), Environmental attitudes. In S. D. Clayton (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of environmental and conservation psychology. NY & Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.65-80.
  • Onel, N. and Mukherjee, A. (2015), “Understanding environmentally sensitive consumer behavior: an integrative research perspective”, World Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development, 11(1), 2–16.
  • Phipps, M., Ozanne, L.K., Luchs, M.G., Subrahmanyan, S., Kapitan, S., Catlin, J.R., Gau, R., Naylor, R.W., Rose, R.L., Simpson, B. and Weaver, T., (2013), Understanding the inherent complexity of sustainable consumption: A social cognitive framework. Journal of Business Research, 66(8), 1227-1234.
  • Steg, L. and Vlek, C. (2009), “Encouraging Pro-Environmental Behavior: An Integrative Review and Research Agenda,” Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29(3), 309-317.