Implications of the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective For the Study of Environmentally-Responsible Consumption

ABSTRACT - Consumers can exhibit environmental responsibility by acquiring and using certain products, neglecting to acquire and use certain products, and conscientiously disposing of all products. This paper argues that environmentally-responsible consumption research can be enhanced by the application of the symbolic interactionist perspective. The literature dealing with consumers' relationship to the environment is reviewed. Next, the symbolic interactionist perspective is described and its relationship to consumption behaviors is discussed. Finally, the implications of the perspective for environmentally-responsible consumption research are discussed, and research issues are presented.


Ed Petkus (1992) ,"Implications of the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective For the Study of Environmentally-Responsible Consumption", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 861-869.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 861-869


Ed Petkus, Jr., University of Tennessee


Consumers can exhibit environmental responsibility by acquiring and using certain products, neglecting to acquire and use certain products, and conscientiously disposing of all products. This paper argues that environmentally-responsible consumption research can be enhanced by the application of the symbolic interactionist perspective. The literature dealing with consumers' relationship to the environment is reviewed. Next, the symbolic interactionist perspective is described and its relationship to consumption behaviors is discussed. Finally, the implications of the perspective for environmentally-responsible consumption research are discussed, and research issues are presented.

Consumers are currently professing environmental concern. Indeed, a recent survey revealed that people are not only concerned about environmental matters (76% of adults described themselves as "very concerned" about environmental issues), but that this concern is being manifested in altered consumer behaviors (ORC 1990). Another poll found that 4 out of 5 people agreed with the statement: "Protecting the environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be too high, and continuing environmental improvements must be made regardless of cost" (Glazer 1990). Consumers have also indicated that they want to know how to select products that are environmentally safe, and that they desire accurate product labeling and advertising about environmental information (Chase 1991).

While such studies provide basic, general information on environmental attitudes and behaviors, there remains a need for research that provides a deeper understanding of environmentally-responsible consumer behavior. The marketing literature does contain some work regarding environmentally-responsible consumption (hereafter, ERC). Most of this research (to be reviewed later in this paper) occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While many current environmental issues are undoubtedly similar to those that were studied then, there are important differences that make further study of ERC necessary. In general, consumers today are influenced by different political, cultural, and social atmospheres than they were ten and twenty years ago. Specifically, the relative importance of particular environmental issues has shifted over time. Issues such as the potential "greenhouse effect", ozone depletion, dolphins drowning in tuna nets, deforestation, and overflowing landfills are some of the current areas of concern. The fact that environmental issues and concerns are constantly changing (Hume 1991) implies that ongoing research into their influence on consumer behavior is essential.

"Environmentalism" can be viewed as a social phenomenon that influences, and is manifested in, individual behavior. Sociology provides researchers with the theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism (SI). The SI perspective holds that people act toward objects based on the meaning that those objects have for them (Blumer 1969; McCall and Simmons 1978). SI is an especially appropriate perspective for the study of ERC because (1) ERC is a specific type of consumer behavior that is directed toward and influenced by issues and concerns that can have a wide variety of meanings for different people, and (2) ERC involves individual responses to a socially-developed and socially-maintained concern.

The purpose of this paper is threefold. First, the literature regarding marketing and the environment will be examined, with an emphasis on ERC issues. Next, the SI perspective will be briefly described, along with a discussion of the links between SI and consumer behavior in the marketing literature. Finally, the implications of the symbolic interactionist perspective for ERC research will be presented, along with corresponding research issues.


In the early 1970s, several authors addressed the broadening role of marketing in terms of the relationship of marketing to the environment. Kelley (1971) predicted that the environment would become the most important social issue to be considered by the business community. Feldman (1971) foresaw a developing social conscience in marketing, especially with respect to the restoration and preservation of the natural environment. Weiss (1971) anticipated that the "style" of our economy would shift away from one characterized by excessive production, consumption, and waste to one characterized by extensive recycling and more rational levels of production. Shuptrine and Osmanski (1975) discussed "clean-up" and "conservation" as aspects of the changing role of marketing.

The literature specifically addressing ERC issues can be segmented into three main areas. First, several researchers have studied socially responsible consumers, defined as consumers who tend to consider the effects of their purchases on society as a whole, or at least on certain aspects of the social world. Kassarjian (1971) found that people who were more concerned about air pollution had a greater awareness of and were more receptive to an advertising campaign introducing a low-polluting gasoline. Anderson and Cunningham (1972) profiled the high social-consciousness consumer as a pre-middle age adult with relatively high occupational and socio-economic status, who was more cosmopolitan, less dogmatic, less conservative, less status conscious, and less alienated than a consumer exhibiting low social consciousness. Kinnear, Taylor, and Ahmed (1974) identified ecologically concerned consumers as scoring high in perceived consumer effectiveness, openness to new ideas, need to satisfy intellectual curiosity, and need to realize personal safety. Webster (1975) characterized the socially conscious consumer as a member of the upper-middle class "counterculture" that is willing to engage in purchase behaviors that are consistent with personal standards of responsibility, even though the behaviors may not be "popularly accepted." The socially conscious consumer was also characterized as "self-actualizing" (Brooker 1976). Finally, Antil (1984) found that perceived consumer effectiveness, willingness to undertake efforts to be socially responsible, knowledge of environmental issues, and environmental concern were positively related to a measure of socially responsible consumption tendency.

Second, a considerable amount of consumer research addressed the energy crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Several authors researched the effects of energy conservation-related communications and information on consumers (e.g., Reizenstein and Barnaby 1976; Craig and McCann 1978; McNeill and Wilkie 1979; Hutton and Wilkie 1980; Walker 1980; Allen 1982). Consumer attitudes toward energy conservation topics have also been investigated (e.g., Reizenstein and Barnaby 1976; Heslop, Moran, and Cousineau 1981; Belk, Painter, and Semenik 1981; Bennett and Moore 1981; Tashchian, Slama, and Tashchian 1984; Haldeman, Peters, and Tripple 1987). Finally, consumer behaviors related to the energy crisis have been examined (e.g., Ritchie, McDougall, and Claxton 1981; Leonard-Barton 1981; Verhallen and van Raaij 1981; LaBay and Kinnear 1981; Hutton and McNeill 1981; Warriner 1981; Downs and Freiden 1983).

Third, research that specifically discusses ERC has been conducted, addressing the phenomenon from both an aggregate and an individual perspective. Taking an aggregate perspective, Fisk (1973, p. 24) defines responsible consumption as the "rational and efficient use of resources with respect to the global human population." He states that irresponsible consumption in any given geographical area will, at least indirectly, affect the state of resources elsewhere on the planet, and that analysis should thus be conducted on a global level. Uusitalo (1986) proposes a model of the ecological impacts of consumption style that relates demographics, institutional variables, and value variables to consumption style, which in turn has various ecological impacts (including post-consumption waste, energy use, and other pollution). In the applied arena, Henion (1972) found a relative loss of market share for detergent brands high in phosphate and a gain for brands low in phosphate when consumers were provided with phosphate-content information.

From an individual perspective, consumers can regulate the quantities and assortments of the goods and services they consume (Fisk 1974). Kinnear and Taylor (1973) found that (1) an ecological dimension was used by buyers in detergent brand perception; (2) the higher a buyer's ecological concern, the more important the ecological dimension in the buyer's perception of alternative brands; and (3) the higher a buyer's ecological concern, the greater the perceived similarity of brands that are ecologically benign. Murphy (1975) showed that the importance rating of "harm to the environment" for paper towels and laundry detergents increased with the level of ecological information provided, and that the effectiveness of ecological information was inversely related to prior knowledge of environmental issues. Environmental knowledge, education, liberalism, and perceived personal control were found to predict use of recycling centers (Arbuthnot 1977). Allen (1982) found that perceived consumer effectiveness was linked to responsiveness to influence techniques and propensity for energy-conserving behavior (see also Awad et al. 1983). Olney and Bryce (1991) suggest that consumer researchers examine the ERC-information relationship with respect to two dimensions: (1) the consumption process, involving acquisition, use, and disposal stages; and (2) focus -- looking at the ERC-information relationship from an individual, interpersonal, and cultural or cross-cultural point of view.

In sum, previous academic treatment of ERC has provided descriptions of general relationships among relevant variables and has defended normative thought. However, a deeper understanding of ERC requires research that examines how, why, and under what circumstances the phenomenon occurs. This paper submits that the SI perspective can facilitate such research.


The basic principles of SI, as outlined by McCall and Simmons (1978), can be summarized as follows: People continuously construct plans of action. Plans of action are executed based on the meanings of objects (i.e., things, people, or ideas) encountered; therefore, people constantly identify and interpret the meanings of objects that are relevant to their plans. The meanings of these objects are the implications of those objects for the plans of action. For social plans of action, meanings of objects must be consensual to the extent that they are sufficiently common to allow mutual adjustment of lines of action. Finally, the most important object whose identity (and its meaning) must be consensually established in any situation is the person him/herself.

Fundamental to this conceptualization of SI is the concept of role-identity. McCall and Simmons (1978) define role-identities as people's imaginative views of themselves as they like to think of themselves being and acting as occupants of particular positions. A role-identity consists of (1) conventional elements (acquired through socialization and past social experiences) that are relatively stable and (2) idiosyncratic elements that arise from interpretations that are tied to specific situations, and are thus dynamic and mutable. Role-identities determine our interpretations of the meanings of situations, events, and people that we encounter in social interactions (McCall and Simmons 1978).

Role-identities are legitimated by role-performance, both internal (imaginative) and overt (behavioral). Role performance in the form of overt behaviors is designed to elicit role-support, which is the implied confirmation by others of an individual's role performance (McCall and Simmons 1978). The elicitation of role-support can be facilitated by role-taking, which affords a person the ability to anticipate the actions or attitudes of others toward the self, and involves internalizing the attitudes, values, and anticipated actions of others associated with the relevant social context (Cuff and Payne 1979). In addition, role "self-support" can be used to maintain a role-identity through a process of self-interaction (McCall and Simmons 1978).

The role-identity model thus seeks to explain behavior based on the enactment of roles in the context of others' perceived reactions to the behavior:

The individual wants very much to be and to do as he imagines himself being and doing in a particular social position. As this congruence is seldom entirely possible, role support -- social testimony in support of his imaginings -- takes on considerable value to the person and may in fact become the major goal of a particular performance (McCall and Simmons 1978, p. 72-3, emphasis in original).

While the symbolic elements of consumption have been addressed by many authors (e.g., Holbrook 1978; Levy 1981; Belk, Bahn, and Mayer 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982; Levy 1982; Holman 1983; Belk, Mayer, and Driscoll 1984; McCracken 1986; Mick 1986; Solomon 1988; Belk 1988), discussion of the SI perspective in consumer research has been limited. Kinch (1967) presents three postulates that relate SI to consumers:

1. A consumer's self-concept is based on perceptions of the responses of others.

2. A consumer's self-concept functions to direct behavior.

3. A consumer's perception of the responses of others to some degree reflects those responses.

Drawing on McCall and Simmons (1978), Schenk and Holman (1980) present a model in which comparison of brand image and situational self-image drives brand choice. When people select an image to project in a social situation, they find ways to express that self-image. One way this can be accomplished is through the purchase of products. Lee (1990) discusses the implications of symbolic interactionism for consumer self-concept and product symbolism research. Lee presents a model of brand choice that integrates: (1) the situational self with the actual self; (2) social risks with functional and performance risks; and (3) public consumption situations with private consumption situations.

Solomon (1983) discusses the role of products as social stimuli. Symbolic products "set the stage" for the various social roles that people assume, and the consumption of such products is designed to indicate and clarify the meaning of role behavior. Products can thus help define the self, and can function as stimuli that cause behavior. In this capacity, product symbolism can facilitate role performance, self-attributions, and the establishment of situational self-images. The symbolic properties of products have meanings that are shared within a cultural context. People undergo a self-interactive, reflexive evaluation of the meanings assigned by others to products, and incorporate this interpreted appraisal by others into the self-concept.


Through news media coverage, advertising, and product labeling, the potential environmental impact of many products, whether positive or negative, can often be identified. Because of this, these products may function as symbols of "environmental responsibility" when associated with positive environmental effects, or as symbols of "environmental irresponsibility" when associated with negative effects. Similar environmentally-related symbolism may be associated with product use and disposal behaviors.

Application of Solomon's Symbolic Consumption Framework

Solomon's (1983) five propositions addressing the role of products as social stimuli can serve as a useful framework in which to study ERC issues:

1. The symbolism associated with many products is the primary reason for the purchase and use of those products (Solomon 1983).

The "environmental responsibility" symbolism associated with certain products (e.g, non-animal-tested cosmetics) and behaviors (e.g., recycling, choosing cloth vs. disposable diapers) may be the primary reason for the purchase of those products and the execution of those behaviors. Such purchases may serve to legitimate an "environmentally responsible" role-identity. This legitimation would be reinforced through role support by (1) direct support of others (e.g., comments about the responsibility of the purchase) and/or (2) a role-taking process where the reactions of others are anticipated. Also, the symbolism associated with environmentally-related use and disposal behaviors may stimulate their enactment.

2. Individuals can, to a significant degree, be evaluated and placed in a social nexus based on the products that surround them (Solomon 1983).

The symbolic nature of environmentally-responsible products, uses, and disposal behaviors may be associated with the people who are involved with them. The corresponding symbolism associated with a person then serves to present to others an environmentally-related image of that person, and can facilitate others' evaluations of that person. For example, a person may be viewed by others as an "environmentalist" (e.g., carrying a cloth grocery bag filled with vegetarian foods walking toward an economical car with a Greenpeace sticker in the window), or a person may be identified as uncaring about the environment (e.g., carrying plastic grocery bags filled with beef, and pulling away in a gas-guzzling car exuding black exhaust smoke).

The possession of and use of environmentally-responsible products may affect how an individual is perceived by both significant and non-significant others. Whatever the image presented, others may evaluate it based on the meanings they themselves attach to the symbols upon which the image is grounded. Before individuals undertake an environmentally-responsible action, they may anticipate (through role-taking) the reactions and evaluations of others regarding the meaning of that action. Individuals' interpretations of the potential reactions of others can then serve to reinforce, modify, or negate the intended course of action.

3. Through reflexive evaluation, people can assign social identity to themselves based on the interpreted meanings of product symbolism (Solomon 1983).

Environmentally-responsible images perceived by others become self-images when individuals undergo a role-taking, interpretive, reflexive evaluation process in which they make indications to themselves as to the meanings of their outwardly-presented symbols. These indications can result in the formation of a role-identity in which a consumer desires to see him/herself as being and acting "environmentally-responsible," especially when positive feedback from others is perceived or anticipated. Role performance associated with such a role-identity may result in the development of corresponding attitudes (e.g., "Protecting the environment is the most important issue today") and lines of action (e.g., organizing neighborhood recycling projects). Interpretive self-interaction regarding the meaning of the symbolism associated with these attitudes and actions may also support the role-identity.

4. The process of self-definition will result in the development of scripts that guide behavior (Solomon 1983).

An environmentally-responsible role-identity would shape the interpretations of symbolism in consumption situations that have environmental implications. Subsequent behaviors will be directed toward further reinforcement of that self-image. The reinforcement of the self-image will be facilitated through further association with products and with use and disposal behaviors that embody symbolism that is commensurate with the developed self-image. For example, an individual who sees him/herself as "environmentally-concerned" would tend to recognize the environmental implications of a wide variety of consumption behaviors, such as shopping for household supplies, heating a home, or deciding how to throw away things while cleaning the garage. Choices made with respect to these behaviors can symbolize environmental concern -- e.g., buying aerosol-free cleaning supplies, setting the thermostat low, and properly disposing of chemicals. By making such decisions, individuals reinforce their "environmentally-concerned" self-image.

5. Symbolic consumption can exert an a priori effect on role definition, especially in situations where scripts are weak (Solomon 1983).

The interpretive process whereby an environmentally-responsible self-image is developed may be more likely to occur in situations where alternative lines of action (perhaps based on alternative self-images) are absent or not adequately established to override an emergent "environmentalist" self-definition.

Application of Other SI Theoretical Considerations

Both the conventional and idiosyncratic elements of role-identities have implications for ERC. Conventional elements would involve the development of sustained behaviors and behavioral standards. These behaviors would be based in aspects of the role-identity that are developed through socialization and past social experiences. For example, environmentally-responsible habits may be learned from parents, school projects, etc. Idiosyncratic elements of role-identities would be involved in specific consumption situations that have implications for environmental responsibility. Decisions made in such situations would be tied to a situational self-image where the perception of others in the situation influences which self-image is evoked (Schenk and Holman 1980). For example, the decision of whether to toss a soft drink can into the trash or to save it for recycling might be affected by an individual's anticipation of the reactions of others nearby, with respect to the self-image that the individual desires to portray.

As Olney and Bryce (1991) suggest, ERC research can benefit from addressing the different stages of the consumption process -- acquisition, use, and disposal. As indicated above, all stages of the consumption process may be impacted by symbolic designation, role-taking, and self-interaction. Each of these stages can also have environmental implications (Olney and Bryce 1991). Purchase situations include those in which significant and/or non-significant others are present. For example, family members or friends could witness the purchase of an ozone-depleting aerosol, or consumers could be asked, "Paper or plastic?" at the grocery store with a crowd of strangers standing in line behind them. Use situations include driving a car that is emitting clouds of black smoke or using non-recyclable products when recyclable alternatives are readily available. Disposal situations include throwing away recyclable materials.

Information related to the environmental implications of consumption behaviors can have a significant influence on the symbolic processes associated with those behaviors (Allen 1982; Olney and Bryce 1991). As mentioned earlier, media coverage of environmental issues, and the influence that consumers can have on these issues, has increased dramatically. Also, advertising and promotions are increasingly emphasizing the positive environmental effects of products. Consumers are therefore being exposed to a great deal of information that serves to develop and/or reinforce the symbolism associated with environmentally-related products and behaviors. Consumers can incorporate this information into the interpretive process by which meanings are attached to the symbols. However, research that simply examines the correlation between environmental information and ERC attitudes and behaviors, while perhaps necessary, is insufficient. An understanding of what that information means to the consumer and how it is incorporated into interpretive processes of self-image or role-identity formation is vastly more important for gaining an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon. Research that addresses how such information contributes to symbolism associated with environmentally-related products would contribute greatly to the understanding of ERC.

Another issue involving environmentally-related product information is the accuracy of that information. Conflicting reports of the environmental effects of various products and practices can be obtained across and even within sources. For example, despite the extensive reporting of the declining state of the environment, a recent editorial presents evidence that the air and water are getting cleaner, acid rain may prevent global warming, urban smog offers protection from ozone depletion, and family farmers dump more chemicals than toxic waste sites (Easterbrook 1990). Information that contradicts prior beliefs regarding the effects of products may play a different role in the interpretive process of role-identity formation -- perhaps catalyzing a modification of the role-identity.

Some ERC-related decisions, whether benign or detrimental, may involve habit or routine behavior. For example, a family may always use styrofoam rather than paper plates on their picnics, or a family may always purchase the same brand of non-biodegradable diapers, regardless of the amount of information to which they are exposed about the environmental impacts of such products. Conversely, some ERC decisions may involve a trade-off analysis. In this case, an evaluation of alternative courses of action occurs, and there are both positively- and negatively-perceived aspects of each alternative. Examples range from evaluating the higher price of an environmentally-responsible product to evaluating the relative effects of deforestation vs. overflowing landfills when making a "paper or plastic" grocery bag decision. Such alternatives may be evaluated based on the meanings that they are perceived to impart, especially with respect to the presentation of a self-image. The relative attractiveness of alternatives may also be grounded in conflicting role-identities. For example, people may perceive themselves to be environmentally-responsible, but also as upscale and status-seeking. These role-identities could conflict, for example, in an automobile purchasing situation (energy-efficient and plain vs. gas-guzzling and prestigious).

ERC research would also benefit from examination at different levels of aggregation (from individuals, to segments, to society as a whole). SI holds that, at any level of aggregation, interlinkages of action are operating based on the meaning that these symbolic products have for people (Blumer 1969). An examination of the process by which the meanings of certain product symbols become consensual and widespread would enhance the understanding of ERC by bridging levels of aggregation. Such research could also improve the understanding of how ERC-related, societal-level "taboos" (such as "don't wear fur," "don't buy tuna", etc.) are established and maintained.


This paper has attempted to show the potential for combining a current research area in marketing -- environmentally responsible consumption -- with a sociological perspective that has received limited attention in consumer research -- symbolic interactionism. ERC is a specific type of consumer behavior that is directed toward and influenced by issues and concerns that can have a wide variety of meanings for different people, and involves individual responses to a socially-developed and socially-maintained concern. ERC is a complex phenomenon; therefore, its investigation requires a research perspective that can facilitate and enhance the understanding of those complexities. This paper proposes and seeks to demonstrate that the conceptual implications of SI correspond compellingly to the conceptual issues involved in ERC, and that the application of the SI perspective can improve the level of understanding of ERC. By extension, the SI perspective may also be useful in understanding how the attitudes and behaviors associated with various lifestyles or values are established, maintained, and changed.

The above discussion of the implications of the SI perspective for ERC research suggests several research issues that can be organized around the main elements of the role-identity concept:

Role-Identity Issues

1. How are "environmentally-responsible" role-identities established, maintained, changed, and/or abandoned?

2. What do environmentally-symbolic consumption behaviors say about people to themselves in the course of self-interaction?

3. How do the reactions (both actual and anticipated or imagined) of others influence the establishment of ERC-related role-identities?

4. How are the conventional and idiosyncratic elements of an ERC-related role-identity related?

5. How is environmentally-related information incorporated into consumers' interpretive processes, and what is its function in the role-identity formation process? What are the implications of this process for modifying behavior?

6. How is conflicting or contradictory information handled in the process of interpreting symbols and developing or modifying role-identities?

7. What specific aspects of personality and lifestyle facilitate role performance for an ERC role-identity?

8. What are the differences between environmentally-responsible and -irresponsible consumers? How are ERC-related role-identities linked to other role-identities that are not related to environmental responsibility?

Role Performance Issues

1. How do the reactions (both actual and anticipated or imagined) of others influence role performance associated with an ERC-related role-identity?

2. What factors facilitate the link between the establishment of an "environmentally-responsible" role-identity and actual environmentally-responsible consumption behaviors?

3. How are lines of action modified as a function of the relationships among ERC-related role-identities and other role-identities?

4. How are ERC behaviors affected by the interaction of conventional and idiosyncratic elements of an ERC-related role-identity?

5. To what degree is environmentally-related symbolism a stimulus for acquisition, use, and disposal behaviors?

6. How do ERC behaviors differ across different stages of the consumption process?

7. How do role-identities affect the reinforcement (or abandonment) of habits? How do they affect trade-off analyses?

8. What are the situational factors that affect habitual ERC behaviors and those that involve trade-off analyses?

9. What are the implications of ERC symbolism for behaviors at different levels of aggregation? How are societal-level, ERC-related "taboos" established, maintained, and/or abandoned?

10. What specific aspects of personality and lifestyle facilitate role performance for an ERC role-identity?

Role Support Issues

1. How do ERC behaviors elicit role-support from others that reinforces the role-identity?

2. In what ways is role support for an ERC role-identity manifested?

3. What specific aspects of personality and lifestyle facilitate role support for an ERC role-identity?

4. What are the situational and temporal factors associated with the elicitation of role support?

5. Does environmentally-related information function as role support for an ERC role-identity?

McCall and Simmons (1978) offer a discussion of the research issues associated with role-identities. Role-identity sets (the assortment of role-identities associated with an individual) can be identified using a combination of unstructured instruments such as the Twenty Statements Test of Self-Attitudes (Kuhn and McPartland 1954) and structured questionnaires that allow subjects to select social roles from a comprehensive list. The relative prominence of the role-identities can be measured by having subjects rate the importance of various role-identities to themselves. Role-identities can also be rated in terms of their relative salience (as determinants of performance in specific situations), which will be influenced by prominence, current need for support, current need for intrinsic and extrinsic gratification, and perceived opportunity to enact the role-identity. To determine the role-identity "contents" (i.e., what an individual thinks about him/herself as an occupant of a role) of a role-identity of interest, attention should be paid to specific activities, style and manner, appearance, reference groups and significant others, and recurrent themes associated with the role prominence and salience hierarchies. This research scheme may thus be used to examine the existence, prominence, salience, and contents of an "environmentally-responsible" role-identity.

In addition to role-identities, other individual and interpersonal constructs may be relevant to ERC research that is based on an SI perspective. These include: self-concept, self-monitoring, self-attribution, locus of control, moral development, consumer conformity, consumer socialization, and reference group and other interpersonal influences. An examination of these and other constructs in an ERC context would contribute to the body of knowledge about ERC.

Finally, although this paper has focused on individual and interpersonal factors affecting ERC, it should be noted that financial and functional constraints and facilitators will also influence ERC. Financial constraints on ERC could occur when environmentally-responsible consumption alternatives cost prohibitively more than other alternatives. Financial facilitators include incentives to stimulate energy conservation (Hutton and McNeill 1981; Hutton and Markley 1991). Functional constraints involve lack of availability of environmentally-responsible alternatives in some product categories, inadequate dissemination of information about the environmental consequences of consumption behaviors, and diminished performance of some environmentally-responsible products. Functional facilitators include proliferation of environmentally-responsible alternatives, increased amount and accuracy of information, better performance of some environmentally-responsible products, and community programs (such as those that provide recycling bins).

When all the social psychological, financial, and functional factors that influence ERC are considered, the complexity of the phenomenon becomes readily apparent. This complexity, combined with the current relevance of environmental issues, presents significant research opportunities. The investigation of ERC represents an important and timely challenge for consumer researchers, and such investigation would be significantly enhanced by a research program that applies the SI perspective.


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Ed Petkus, Jr., University of Tennessee


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19 | 1992

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