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Consumer Responsibility: what does it mean and who’s in charge?

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  1. Consumer Responsibility: what does it mean and who’s in charge? Advanced Water Education Workshop: Water and Public Perception June 28 and 29, 2011 Dr. Sabrina V. Helm

  2. Main questions for today: 1. ”Where does all that materialism come from“? 2. Consumers rule the market place: true or false? 3. What is Consumer Social Responsibility? Who‘s in charge and why?

  3. ”Where does all that materialism come from“?

  4. Prevalence of materialism • “…one of the most striking trends over the past 100 years has been the evolution of consumption as a culturally accepted means of seeking success, happiness, and the populist notion of the good life… the past century witnessed a dramatic explosion of advertising messages…, materialistic themes … and consumption desires… • Our lives today are dominated by the material • objects that proliferate all around us, including the prospects • and problems they afford…” • (Burroughs/Rindfleisch 2002, p. 348)

  5. One consequence of materialism • “…It is estimated that humanity’s current collective consumption level already needs the resources of 1.4 earths; if the whole world consumed at the level of consumption in the U.K., it would require 3.4 planets similar to earth; and if the American level of consumption became the world norm, five planets would be needed.” • (Sheth/Sethia/Srinivas 2011, p. 24; for additional data see

  6. What is materialism and why is it bad? “Materialism can be defined as a ‘set of centrally held beliefs about the importance of possessions in one’s life.’ (Richins and Dawson 1992, p. 308) In other words, materialism can be viewed as the value a consumer places on the acquisition and possession of material objects. A defining characteristic of highly materialistic individuals is a belief that well-being can be enhanced through one’s relationships with objects. Unfortunately, the search for well-being through possessions appears to be a futile quest.” (Burroughs/Rindfleisch 2002, p. 349)  well-being/quality of life • materialism

  7. Mixed messages and divergent pressures collective-oriented values (e.g., family cohesion, community ties, religious fulfillment) • materialism  “We suggest that individuals who hold … incongruent value profiles (i.e., individuals with high levels of collective-oriented values who are also high in materialism) will experience heightened levels of value conflict in the form of psychological tension.This tension ultimately leads to diminished well-being. In sum, we propose that (1) materialism is opposed to collective-oriented values, (2) materialism is associated with heightened psychological tension among those with high levels of collective-oriented values, and (3) this tension lowers well-being.” (Burroughs/Rindfleisch 2002, p. 349)

  8. Negative consequences of materialism for the individual “…the tension produced by the intermingling of material values and collective-oriented values appears to be experienced as a dull sense of unease…the malaise associated with stress may be even more pernicious than anxiety because it is more likely to be a chronic and undetected condition. Although stress has received relatively little attention in the materialism literature, we suggest that it is a key contributor to one’s sense of well-being, as it has been documented to have a wide-ranging impact on a host of mentaland physical ailments, including depression, hypertension, and heart disease …. This suggests that materialism may be associated with physical maladies as well as psychological ones. (Burroughs/Rindfleisch 2002, p. 366) Consumers who score high on public collective values (volunteering, engaged in neighborhood) perceived less value-conflicts than those scoring high on private collective values (e.g. family values).

  9. “Where does all that materialism come from“? Human nature!

  10. Reasons for Shopping Reasons for shopping: • Vary by product category, store type, and culture • Hedonic reasons include: • Social experiences • Sharing of common interests • Interpersonal attraction • Instant status • The thrill of the hunt • Feeling better (mood shopper) • Improving social identity • Symbolic self-completion • …

  11. The meaning of consumption People often buy products not for what they do, but for what they mean.

  12. Conspicuous Consumption • Invidious distinction: we buy things to inspire envy in others through our display of wealth or power • Conspicuous consumption: people’s desire to provide prominent visible evidence of their ability to afford luxury goods

  13. Where does all that materialism come from?Politics and marketing! • The stock market collapse in 1929 triggered the Great Depression that engulfed the world in terrible suffering. World War II was the catalyst for economic recovery. America’s enormous resource base, productivity, energy, and technology were thrown into the war effort, and soon its economy blazed white hot. With victory imminent, the president’s council of economic advisors was challenged to find a way to convert a war economy to peace. 2. Shortly after the end of the war, retailing analyst Victor Lebow expressed the solution: “Our enormously productive economy … demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…. we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

  14. Where does all that materialism come from?Politics and marketing! 3. “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.” (Arthur F. Burns, Chairman of President Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisors, 1953) 4. When goods are well-made and durable, eventually markets are saturated. An endless market is created by introducing rapid obsolescence (think clothing, cars, laptop computers). And with disposability, where an article is used once and thrown away, the market will never be saturated. Victor Lebow’s article:

  15. Ask yourself…

  16. 2. Consumers rule the market place: true or false?

  17. The Pillars of Sustainable Consumption Government Consumers Producers

  18. 3. What is Consumer Social Responsibility? Who‘s in charge and why?

  19. Products A Products B

  20. Conspicuous Conservation

  21. Conspicuous Conservation and Competitive Altruism “… activating status motives can lead people to shy away from luxury and instead choose self-sacrifice” “…conspicuous displays of altruism can function to build and maintain costly prosocial reputations. We argue that green products can demonstrate to others that their owners are voluntarily willing and able to incur the cost of owning a product that benefits the environment (and society) but that may be inferior for personal use.” In combination, “voluntary acts of self-sacrifice and the ability to incur costs are associated with status”. Griskevicius/Tybur/Van den Bergh 2010, pp. 392.

  22. Conspicuous Conservation and Competitive Altruism

  23. What about Water Conservation????

  24. What does ”responsibility“ mean?

  25. What does ”responsibility“ meanin a consumption-context? We can define sustainability of consumption as decisions made and actions taken by consumers that improve their and their families’ quality of life without compromising the ability of present and future consumers and other life to flourish on the planet. Consumer Social Responsibility(ConSR) is a concept that highlights that consumers are accountable for their consumption behavior and their impact on the larger social good. It’s the conscious and deliberate choice to make certain consumption choices based on personal and moral beliefs and on a willingness to avoid negative external effects the individual‘s consumption has toward society and the environment.

  26. Is it me, is it you, or is it us? The media, politicians, scientists, retailers, businesses, consumers often take the view that the burden on the ecological environment is attributable to choices and actions of the consumers. The implication of (expressing) such a view is that responsibility for the environment is attibuted to one party and blame is detracted from others (e.g., government, producers). The implication is also that the producer (and the government) are fulfilling their responsibilities by following the preferences of the consumers while the consumer fails (by making detrimental choices). And another implication is that individual consumers fail to take responsibility because the task seems too large (learned helplessness/ lack in perceived consumer effectiveness). (see also Middlemiss 2010)

  27. Is it everybody? To the degree that people have the ability to make a positive difference, they are obliged to do so. (see also Middlemiss 2010, p. 155 in reference to Shrader-Frechette.) • Fulfilling responsibility depends on ability. • People have differing abilities to fulfill their obligations.

  28. Right and responsibility Consumers have a responsibility to remain within the limits of a sustainable ecological footprint. (see also Middlemiss 2010) • Pro-environmental action needs to be understood as citizenly behavior, not as samaritan. • Responsibilities of the individual could be reframed as thoseof society (and politics). • The individual should be seen as having a right to live a sustainable lifestyle, and a right to be provided with sustainable opportunities by society.

  29. Individualist vs. situated sustainable consumption (see also Middlemiss 2010, p.158 and 159 and 163) • “In individualist sustainable consumption the emphasis is on the effects of the individual on the Earth (failure to meet responsibility) and in situated sustainable consumption on available resources for individuals to consumer (within limits of responsibility).” • Sustainable consumption is a “shared obligation between individual and society.” • “Responsibilities differ between individuals given people’s ability to engage with change and the nature of the context in which they operate.” • “One person’s version of responsibility might be differentto another’s: ultimately, … the matter of responsibility in sustainable consumption is political.”

  30. The contextualized ecological footprint (Middlemiss 2010, p. 160)

  31. Characteristics fostering personal capacity (Middlemiss 2010, p. 162) • a broadly positive attitude to the environment • an understanding of environmental problems • skills of reflexivity • knowledge • enthusiasm • negotiation • motivation • curiosity Ultimately, the exact nature of individual responsibility for sustainable consumption is a matter for debate, not for prescription.

  32. Literature Burroughs, James E. and Rindfleisch, Aric (2002): Materialism and Well‐Being: A Conflicting Values Perspective. The Journal of Consumer Research, 29(3), 348-370. Griskevicius, Vladas, Tybur, Joshua M., & Van den Bergh, Bram (2010). Going Green to Be Seen: Status, Reputation, and Conspicuous Conservation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(3), 392-404. Middlemiss, Lucie (2010): Reframing Individual Responsibility for Sustainable Consumption: Lessons from Environmental Justice and Ecological Citizenship. Environmental Values, 19, 147-167. Sheth Jagdish N., Sethia, Nirmal K., & Srinivas, Shanthi (2011): Mindful consumption: a customer-centric approach to sustainability. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 39, 21-39.

  33. Dr. Sabrina HelmPetSmart Associate Professor Co-Director CESI (Consumers Environment Sustainability Initiative)The University of Arizona Retailing and Consumer SciencesP.O. Box 210078Tucson, AZ 85721-0078Tel. (520) 621-7130email: www: