How can Consumers be Empowered for Sustainable Lifestyle Changes?
John Thøgersen, "Aarhus School of Business, Department of Marketing", Denmark
It is often argued that consumers should carry their fair share of the responsibility for sustainability. Although the case for consumer responsibility is strong, it is important that it is not used to justify “blaming the victim” strategies. Hardly anyone will deny that there are external conditions affecting the effectiveness of an individual consumer’s striving for sustainability. The relevant external conditions are an extremely diverse set of factors, perhaps their only commonality being that, unless making an organized effort, consumers can do nothing about them. In addition, consumers must live with a number of personal constraints: limited resources in terms of finances, time, cognitive capacity, energy, and knowledge, and in everyday life lots of activities and goals compete for the same limited resources. Policy can empower consumers for changing lifestyles by reducing their individual constraints, but it should also attempt to loosen some of the external constraints that make changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle difficult. If part of what is lacking is willpower it also seems reasonable to speak about being empowered to fulfill one’s responsibilities. In this perspective, empowerment is not only a question of capabilities, but also of motivation. Basically, a person’s feeling of empowerment has implications for how hard he or she will strive to solve environmental and ethical problems through his or her own behavioral effort. Hence, policy that increases a feeling of empowerment (or self-efficacy) may also have a positive effect on consumers’ motivation to make an effort. In this paper I will first summarize evidence documenting individual and external constraints on lifestyle changes in a sustainable direction. Next, I discuss adequate policies for reducing constraints on consumers. And, finally, I discuss possible motivational effects of the proposed policies.
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