Sustainable Consumption and the Attitude-Behaviour-Gap Phenomenon - Causes and Measurements towards a Sustainable Development

Sustainable development needs sustainable production and sustainable consumption. During the last decades the encouragement of sustainable production has been the focus of research and policy makers under the implicit assumption that the observable increasing ‘green’ values of consumers would also entail a growing sustainable consumption. However, it has been found that the actual purchasing behaviour often deviates from ‘green’ attitudes. This phenomenon is called the attitude-behaviour gap. It is influenced by individual, social and situational factors. The main purchasing barriers for sustainable (organic) food are price, lack of immediate availability, sensory criteria, lack or overload of information as well as the low-involvement feature of food products in conjunction with well-established consumption routines, lack of transparency and trust towards labels and certifications. The last three barriers are mainly of a psychological nature. Especially the low-involvement feature of food products due to daily purchase routines and relatively low prices tends to result in fast, automatic and subconscious decisions based on a so-called human mental system 1, derived from Daniel Kahneman’s2 model in behavioural psychology. In contrast, the human mental system 2 is especially important for the transformations of individual behaviour towards a more sustainable consumption. Decisions based on the human mental system 2 are slow, logical, rational, conscious and arduous. This so-called dual action model also influences the reliability of responses in consumer surveys. It seems that the consumer behaviour is the most unstable and unpredictable part of the entire supply chain and requires special attention. Concrete measures to influence consumer behaviour towards sustainable consumption are highly complex. This paper presents a review of interdisciplinary research literature on the complexity of sustainable food consumption and an empirical analysis of selected countries worldwide. In a ‘best practice’ case study, it analyses the organic food sector in Denmark, especially in the 80ies and 90ies, where the market share rose to a leading position worldwide. The Danish example demonstrates that common efforts and a shared responsibility of consumers, business, interdisciplinary researchers, mass media and policy are needed. It takes pioneers of change who succeed in assembling a ‘critical mass’ willing to increase its ‘sustainable’ behaviour. Considering the strong psychological barriers of consumers and the continuing low market share of organic food, proactive policy measures would be conducive to foster the personal responsibility of the consumers and offer incentives towards a sustainable production. Also, further self-obligations of companies (Corporate Social Responsibility – CSR) as well as more transparency and simplification of reliable labels and certifications are needed to encourage the process towards a sustainable development.


Editor(s):
Schiefer, Gerhard
Rickert, Ursula
Subject(s):
Issue Date:
2015-05
Publication Type:
Conference Paper/ Presentation
DOI and Other Identifiers:
10.22004/ag.econ.206233
ISSN 2194-511X (Other)
Record Identifier:
https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/206233
PURL Identifier:
http://purl.umn.edu/206233
Page range:
199-214
Total Pages:
16




 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2019-08-30

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