An inconvenient truth: Does responsible consumption benefit corporations more than society?

Aug 26, 2014

Are environmental and social problems such as global warming and poverty the result of inadequate governmental regulations or does the burden fall on our failure as consumers to make better consumption choices? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, responsible consumption shifts the burden for solving global problems from governments to consumers and ultimately benefits corporations more than society.

"When businesses convince politicians to encourage responsible consumption instead of implementing policy changes to solve environmental and , business earns the license to create new markets while all of the pressure to solve the problem at hand falls on the individual consumer. For example, is blamed on unwilling to make greener choices rather than the failure of governments to regulate markets to the benefit of society and the environment," write authors Markus Giesler and Ela Veresiu (both York University).

The authors studied the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in order to examine the influence of economic elites on the creation of four types of responsible consumers: the bottom-of-the-pyramid consumer, the green consumer, the health-conscious consumer, and the financially literate consumer.

The authors identified a process that shifts responsibility from the state and corporations to the individual consumer. First, economic elites redefine the nature of the problem from political to one of individual consumption (for example, global warming stems from consumers failing to cultivate a sustainable lifestyle). Next, economic elites promote the idea that the only viable solution is for consumers to change their behavior. Third, new markets are created in order to turn this solution into a material reality (eco-friendly light bulbs, hybrid automobiles, energy efficient appliances). Finally, consumers must adopt this new ethical self-understanding.

"The implications of our study are far-reaching and relevant for consumers and policy makers alike. While the responsible consumption myth offers a powerful vision of a better world through identity-based consumption, upon closer inspection, this logic harbors significant personal and societal costs. The responsible consumption myth promotes the idea that governments can never achieve harmony between competing economic and social or environmental goals and that this instead requires a global community of morally enlightened consumers who are empowered to make a difference through the marketplace," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Are consumers more likely to purchase unintentionally green products?

More information: Markus Giesler and Ela Veresiu. "Creating the Responsible Consumer: Moralistic Governance Regimes and Consumer Subjectivity." Journal of Consumer Research: October 2014.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

Jul 29, 2014

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Recommended for you

US poverty rate dipped slightly in 2013

5 minutes ago

The number of people living in poverty in the United States dropped slightly in 2013 to 45.3 million, according to figures released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 26, 2014
Screw the consumer and our earth. The billionaires will just find a more isolated tropical isle.
not rated yet Aug 26, 2014
I don't support the "responsible consumption" more than lassies-faire or communism Utopias, which are relying on willing humanitarian ideals. The people are cheaters and hoarders by their very nature, as it's instinctive trait, which accelerated their evolution by competition and helped them to survive harsh climate periods. Even the animals apply the overconsumption as a manifestation of their evolutionary fitness, for example during building of nests. The income still represents the fairest model of consumption control. For example, for current civilization it would be more advantageous to invest into research of new energy technologies rather than to attempt for restriction of their consumption willingly. Only 30 millions of native Indians lived in balance with their environment in northern America before Columbus - currently it's over 300 millions of people. Such a pile of people can never live in fully sustainable way anymore.