Green Consumption Behaviour as a Social Process
In recent years, environmental concern, sustainability and climate change have become widespread political and social issues. The prevalence of environmental issues in the social environment has encouraged the majority of consumers to develop concern for environmental issues, pro-environmental attitudes and an intention to purchase green products and practice green behaviour. However, future growth of green consumerism is threatened by an “attitude-behaviour gap”. Sustainable consumption behaviour is limited to a niche market of “green” consumers, and must expand into more mainstream consumer markets. This study is aimed at exploring how individual perceptions, personal relationships and social experiences shape green consumption behaviour. Its objectives were (1) to achieve a greater understanding of how the social environment influences the green consumption behaviour of individual consumers; and (2) to explore how pro-environmental behaviour change takes place. This study used qualitative methods and adopted an adapted case study methodology. The primary data was collected from semi-structured depth interviews with two participants from seven household cases. Four key insights of this research were: (1) “Green” and “mainstream” (i.e., not-so-green) consumers positively influence the green consumption behaviour of other consumers via social observations, comparisons and “greening strategies”, resulting in pro-environmental behaviour change; (2) “Mainstream” (i.e., not-so-green) consumers view “green” consumers as people who adopt “alternative” green consumption behaviour. A “green syndrome” has developed whereby “green” is viewed as an unattainable goal, limiting mainstream participation in green consumption behaviour; (3) “Green” and “mainstream” (i.e., not-so-green) consumers cope with their non-environmental actions with tradeoff and neutralisation arguments which reinforce the “attitude-behaviour gap” in green consumerism and (4) Personal relationships and household dynamics (i.e., household roles, lifecycle and structure) can affect the adoption and effectiveness of green consumption behaviour practiced within households. Pro-environmental behaviour can be encouraged by explicit green social norms in the social environment, as this reduces the efficacy of neutralisation techniques. Furthermore, the “mainstream” (i.e., not-so-green) population will adopt green products and practices when they are effective, convenient and cost-efficient.