Paradigms of the Self and the Environment in Consumer Behavior and Marketing

ABSTRACT - This paper is an attempt at a holistic approach to the study of our environmental crisis and the related implications for the field of consumer behavior and marketing. Contemporary literature in consumer behavior and marketing is examined and the inherent underlying assumptions are discussed. The changing perception of self is proposed as being at the root of our ecological crisis. Implications for future research in Consumer behavior and Marketing are discussed.


Annamma Joy and Lisa Auchinachie (1994) ,"Paradigms of the Self and the Environment in Consumer Behavior and Marketing", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 153-157.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 153-157


Annamma Joy, Concordia University

Lisa Auchinachie, Concordia University


This paper is an attempt at a holistic approach to the study of our environmental crisis and the related implications for the field of consumer behavior and marketing. Contemporary literature in consumer behavior and marketing is examined and the inherent underlying assumptions are discussed. The changing perception of self is proposed as being at the root of our ecological crisis. Implications for future research in Consumer behavior and Marketing are discussed.


This paper is an attempt at a holistic approach to the study of our environmental crisis and the related implications for the field of consumer behavior and marketing. Contemporary environmental marketing literature will be examined, not with the traditional "how to" approach, but with the goal of understanding the underlying assumptions that are inherent in the research. Historically, the ecological crisis appears to have developed because the mainstream attitude that pervaded the social sciences, was that some form of human mechanism would operate to insure that humankind adapts to ever increasing environmental devastation (Dunlap, 1980). Latterly, people began to question this assumption together with the underlying assumptions upon which it is based. In this paper, we wish to emphasize the value of looking at nature-as- extended self in terms of addressig some of the key issues regarding the enviornment today.


Complicating any discussion of ecology is an epistemological problem- the distinction between self and object (self and other, me and not-me, man and nature and God, etc). Since Descartes, philosophy has made divisions between what may be assumed to belong to the self and what is "really" out there. A discussion of the perceptions of the meaning of nature is important as our orientation towards nature will affect our ideas of what constitute proper behaviour towards it. Neil Evernden (1989) describes three views of nature (nature-as-object, nature-as-self, nature-as-miracle) using post modern theory which is sensitive to binary constructs such as "self and other" and "man and the environment". It might be noted that it is not unlikely that a single person might, in different contexts, hold all of these views simultaneously.

A. Nature-as-Object

Perceiving nature as a collection of objects, whether these are considered important or not, allows people to consider themselves separate from nature and has allowed humankind to assume that they have the collective right to manipulate nature at will. Control of nature is in partnership with economic development. The ecological movement has now challenged this assumption. As early as 1962, Rachel Carson, a biologist, published a book called Silent Spring which described the effects of pesticides on the ecosystem.

Resource conservationists typically see nature-as-object and feel that exploitation is necessary but it must be managed. Everden (1989) explains that authors often compose their writing with this type of orientation towards nature since, were they to do otherwise, they would be accused of being unscientific. For instance, Rachel Carson, a sientist had to reject projection (perceiving feelings in nature) and anthropomorphism (acting as if nature in general has human characteristics) to keep her position in the scientific community.

Environmentalism as a term can describe orientations with diverse approaches including diverse epistemologies. Joel Schwartz (1989) describes Hobbesian environmentalism which has a nature-as-object orientation. Hobbesian environmentalism appeals to human self-interest and takes its bearing from our fear of death: unless we treat the environment well, the environment will "seek revenge" and bring about premature death for humankind. Human self-interest requires that we cease to exploit nature so systematically. Nature-as-object is the orientation adopted by our society as an inevitable result of cultural indoctrination and is at the root of the environmental crisis.

B. Nature-as-Self

This orientation considers nature-as-"extended-self" or nature-as-"like-self". It makes sense, then, that this leads to a concern with the relationship of humans and non-humans and considers rights and obligations within nature or even morality of nature. Joel Schwartz (1989) calls nature-as-self orientation, in its extreme form, ethical environmentalism (Kantian morality) and describes how this orientation will effect public policy. He suggests that this moral law asks people to regard as immoral the preference for human interests over those of animals, vegetables and minerals. Anthropocentrism (the preference for our species over others) is held to be no less immoral than the selfish preference for oneself over other people. Ecological egalitarians have even suggested that natural objects be given legal rights and independent standing in the judicial system (Stone, 1972).

Schwartz (1989) points out several problems that may arise for the legal system when one tries to implement this type of orientation. Not all manifestations of nature-as-self are extreme or have manifested themselves in legal proposals.

C. Nature-as-Miracle (Cultural Construct)

Everden (1989) goes on to describe another orientation towards nature: nature-as-miracle. Miracles are commonly understood as something that runs contrary to nature; therefore, nature-as-miracle does not necessarily follow specific "laws". The "nature-as-miracle" orientation is rejected completely by the scientific community as it questions the very basis for scientific study: there are laws of nature which can be proven. Everden (1989) points out that one can never actually prove a causal relationship as it could always change on the next trial but nevertheless we can and, do act as if it were so rather than a matter of probability. Since Descartes, nature-as-object has been the usual orientation for scientific thought and as a result humans have withdrawn from nature and consider themselves separate from it, observers, as it were, apart and looking in.

For the purposes of this study, a number of published articles on ecological consumption and marketing were identified. The underlying framework that informs much of the discussion in consumer behavior and marketing takes the view of nature-as-object. Such a view arises out of the general assumptions of environmental economics that is the source of much of the work done in marketing. A more emergent view is one of looking at nature as extended self. Some suggestions are made regarding the value of such a perspective to marketers.


In economics, environmental problems are often explained as a failure of the market system, faulty choices of technology or a failure of stewardship.

A. Failure of the market:

For creationists, excessive use of environmental resources is explained as a failure of the "invisible hand" of the market. [A creationist can be defined as someone who believes that resources are always unlimited as humans have the capacity to create new resources through technology and inventiveness.] According to them, prices, guide three critical functions of the economy: they match the output of goods and services to consumer desires, they apportion the limited supply of commodities and they prevent waste (Baumol & Oates, 1979).

B. Faulty Choices in Technology:

Another variant is represented by those who think that the matter can be solved by substituting one form of technology for another. Lovins (1971) see environmental problems as deriving from faulty technological choices. He suggests following a soft energy path (SEP) which advocates using only renewable sources of energy. The soft energy path has five important characteristics: renewability, varied and diverse technologies, simple and accessible technologies, matched in scale to end-use needs and matched in source to end-use needs.

C. Failure of Stewardship:

Others believe that environmental problems are a result of a failure of stewardship. Stroup & Shaw (1989) state that when backed by effective liability laws, private property rights tend to work well. Shortcomings in stewardship are a reflection of deficiencies or failures in the operation of the market.

Hull & St. Pierre (1990) describe three ways in which the principles of stewardship are violated: unrestricted access and common goods, mismatched rights and obligations (externalities) and perverse side-effects of government initiatives. Problems occur when users have no incentive to maintain the environmental asset because the cost of using it is little or nothing and, as a consequence the private costs do not equal the social costs. The existence of pollution, environmental degradation or other unintended side effects are explained as "externalities or spillovers".

Hull and St-Pierre (1990) have identified three approaches to achieving environmental goals:

A. Voluntarism ("Green Consumerism")

Voluntary action is characterised by zero government intervention and requires that consumer standards and purchasing patterns change to reflect environmental concernS within the community as a whole. According to Hull and St-Pierre (1990) voluntarism fails in that it simply reflects a shift in consumer tastes and spending habits. In order for voluntarism to be an effective method, these consumer changes must be sufficiently general to produce a visible change in the market and thus, produce a significant gain on behalf of the environment.

B. Government Intervention ("Command and control")

Government regulation is at the opposite pole of non-intervention and is characterised by government setting standards for such things as pollution emission rates and technologies used. As discussed earlier, government intervention may also have detrimental side effects by committing resources to unsustainable projects.

C. Market Based Approaches

Economists like Hull and St-Pierre (1990) feel that environmental problems are a result of defects in the marketplace that discourage stewardship and management of environmental assets. The failure may lie ultimately in how humans see themselves in relation to the natural environment. The market based approach falls somewhere between voluntarism, and "command and control" in terms of intervention. Assigning stewardship of environmental assets to various groups and introducing pollution taxes are some of the many possible solutions proposed.

Emission charges, user fees and licences have an impact on prices and the cost of production. Others instruments such as accelerated depreciation, favourable rates of borrowing or lowering of taxes improve the rate of return from investments in environmentally friendly technologies. Others improve market standards with rewards for compliance (Hull & St. Pierre, 1990).


The neo-Malthusians have rediscovered a major principle of Malthus' work that maintains that the human species is subject to, not exempt from, ecological constraints. Perhaps what they have rediscovered is the artificiality of defining man always over and against nature rather than as part of nature in which he is interconnected. There may even be some dim sense here of nature as part of the extended self.

Cook and Cook (1988) describe neo-Malthusian beliefs as follows:

1) Materials and energy balance constrain production. 2) Affluence is the more productive mother of invention than is growth in population. 3) The ecological paradigm states that real wealth is technology out of nature but nature has furnished a large portion of this wealth. 4) The industrial revolution is coming to a close and the population will outgrow the resources on which it depends. 5) Owing to their scarcity, natural resources will become more expensive. Cook (1981:25) feels that this foretells the end of economic growth based on production and that it means the replacement of the "consumer society by a conserver society".

Steady State Economy:

In response to economic creationism, a new ecological paradigm is emerging: the concept of the sustainable or steady-state economy (SSE). Daly (1980) defines SSE by the following four characteristics of which only human population and total stock (all physical things capable of satisfying human wants and subject to ownership) are held constant. "Technology, information, wisdom, goodness, genetic characteristics, distribution of wealth and income, product mix are not held constant" (Daly, 1980:99).


Marketing researchers, like researchers in other disciplines, have found that there is a substantial portion of the population who either believe that there is no crisis or who believe that technology will overcome any present day environmental dilemma (Talarzyk & Omara, 1974; Milstein, 1979).

Redwood (1974) expressed an optimistic view in his paper on industrial adjustment to environmental pressure. He felt that major threats to the environment in North America would be brought under control in ten years by way of technological innovation. Attempts have also been made to profile the opposing segments of "doomsayers" and "creationists" according to demographic, sociopsychological and lifestyle variables.

A. Profiling the Voluntary Simplifier

Five articles were found to relate to the segmentation of a group termed "voluntary simplifiers". The concept of voluntary simplicity came into vogue during the late seventies and has five underlying basic values: material simplicity, self-determination, ecological awareness, human scale and personal growth (Leonard-Barton, 1981). Attempts were made by various researchers to describe those ascribing to a voluntary simplified lifestyle. Demographic, behavioural, attitudinal, and lifestyle variables were all explored.

B. Profiling the Socially Conscious Consumer (SCC)

Other research has concentrated on building a profile of the socially conscious consumer. The socially conscious consumer (SCC) has been defined as someone who "takes into account the public consequences on his or her private consumption or who attempts to use his or her purchasing power to bring about social change" (Webster, 1975:188). A clear understanding of who socially conscious consumers are and how many they number is not yet apparent. Leigh, Murphy and Enis (1988) reviewed eight previous studies on the SCC and they found many conflicting results. For example, some researchers have found that SCCs are alienated while others have found they are not alienated. In terms of demographics, some research has characterised the SCC as middle class whereas others have characterised the SCC as upper class. It seems apparent that twenty years of research on the topic has not led to much in the way of appropriate segmenting variables for the socially conscious consumer.

C. Profiling the Ecologically Concerned Consumer (ECC)

Sixteen articles were found to relate specifically to the our main topic of interest: profiling the ecologically/environmentally concerned consumer. Some researchers consider this segment to be a sub-segment of the socially conscious consumer segment. Estimates of the ecologically concerned consumer population segment size have not been determined. As with the research on the socially conscious consumer, numerous defining variables have been proposed for segmenting the ecologically concerned consumer (Socio-economic, personality, attitudinal, political orientation, race, knowledge, family life cycle, locus of control, lifestyle, gender, etc.). Webster (1975) found that women were more likely than men to exhibit consistent purchase behaviour in relation to their attitudes toward social conscious consuming. On the other hand, both Leigh, Murphy and Enis (1988) and Antil (1984) report conflicting results in their reviews of past research on the socially conscious consumer. Again it seems clear that research on gender as it relates to environmental concern and behaviour has been inconsistent in its findings.


Ecological Marketing has been defined by Henion (1976:1-2) as

The marketing effort of an [organisation]... expended directly or indirectly on behalf of selling or marketing goods, services or ideas whose positive ecological attributes or content constitute a minor or major appeal for the buyer, user, or adopter for the purposes of making, or which tends to result in, a short-term or long-term profit for a profit-making entity.

Articles concerning marketing strategy and ecology can generally be broken down into the elements of the traditional marketing mix: product, promotion, place and price.


Various views of product management within the ecological marketing framework have been discussed. Kellerman (1978:234) states that "the ecological objectives in planning products are to reduce resource consumption and pollution and to increase conservation of scarce resources". Michman (1985) describes product management in the light of our ecological crisis as merely another opportunity to develop new products that will result in additional profits.

Leigh, Murphy and Enis (1989) used a seven layered hierarchical product differentiation scale to analyse the societal benefit of three selected product classes. The seven criteria used, ranked in decreasing order, were ecological impact, societal impact, product performance, product extension, product information, product design and product embellishment. The rationale for the hierarchical nature of this scale is drawn from the long-range perspective of the total welfare to society. As Leigh et al (1989) point out, one must assume that the primary product differentiation criterion is ecological impact as this is the ultimate constraining force on all human activity.


For creating awareness, advertising is probably the most economically effective element of the promotional mix (Henion, 1976). Kellerman (1978) describes promotion as a vehicle for expanding the demand for ecologically benign products while encouraging conservation of scarce resources as well as a vehicle by which consumers and producers can be taught to modify their attitudes toward the environment.

The promotional role of ecological marketing is not always easy. Kinnear and Taylor (1973b) found that neutral sources, such as television documentaries, rank much higher than market dominated sources such as advertisement. The neutral sources are seen as not having any hidden motives for providing environmental information.

Henion (1976) feels that, in general, an economic appeal is usually more effective than an ecological appeal but "piggy backing" the two types of appeals should have a synergistic effect. Other articles were found to relate to the effects of environmental product labelling. Early articles, such as Henion (1972) found that shoppers appeared to respond affirmatively to ecologically relevant buying information about detergents. Frizsche and Duer (1982) found that an environmental attribute (aerosol versus non-aerosol) of a product is a very important part of the bundle of attributes which comprise a product but only for a certain segment of concerned consumers.

Three other articles were found to relate to the effects of energy labelling of refrigerators (Claxton & Anderson, 1979; Hutton & Mc Neil, 1979; Anderson & Claxton, 1982). Anderson and Claxton (1982) found that energy information had a significant impact on the purchase of small refrigerators but they felt that this may be related to the possibility of added savings in terms of electricity bills and not motivated by a concern for the good of society.

Brown and Apostolidis (1979) examined the need for product labelling that describes not only content value but societal and ecological benefits of the product. Olney and Bryce (1991) discuss the contemporary problem of consumer responses to environmentally based product claims. They discuss marketing's overuse of environmentally friendly claims and the consumers ever eroding confidence in companies who claim to encourage environmentally sound consumption. They suggest that guidelines must be set up in order that environmentally benign products be easily recognised.


The next set of articles examined concerns the reverse channels of distribution required for materials recycling. These articles outline, firstly, why this is a marketing problem (Guiltinan & Nwokeye, 1974) and, secondly, various ways of implementing recycling systems (Kellerman, 1978). The advantages and disadvantages of each are evaluated. What is an important concern for our purposes is consumer response to various recycling options. It has been found that, first, a consumer must be aware that a problem exists (e.g. over extended landfills) and, second, the consumer must believe that his/her individual efforts to recycle will help contribute to the overall solution to the problem (Henion, 1976).

Frizsche (1974) found that customers of a recycling service were environmentally inconsistent in their purchase behaviour. Kellerman (1978) discusses the development of reverse channel systems for recycling but also suggests that marketers encourage one-stop shopping as well as developing distribution systems that involve more movement of information and less movement of goods and people. Michman (1985) states that the role of distribution management in light of our environmental problems involves emphasis on mass-transportation, containerisation, unit trains and other goods-handling technologies.


Henion (1976) suggests, if the price of each and every product were based on its true full cost, which includes its social and environmental costs, then there would be no need for ecological marketing. In the real world, assumptions of traditional price theory are often violated. Henion also suggests that ecological marketing can convert non-environmetally concerned consumers into environmentally concerned consumers by way of effective education and merchandising.

Early research findings have suggested that ecologically concerned consumers are not always willing to pay a higher price for environmentally benign products (Herberger & Buchanan, 1971; Kerin & Peterson, 1974; Roa, 1974). One study did find a significant relationship between ecological awareness and willingness to pay (Reizenstein, Hills & Philpot, 1974), however a substantial proportion of the population was still unaware of any environmental problem and unwilling to pay for its amelioration. Reizenstein et al (1974) concluded that communication strategies need to be designed to make all segments more aware of environmental problems.

Both Michman (1985) and Kellerman (1978) state that higher prices should be implemented as this will encourage reduced demands for consumer goods. They also suggest that government instituted financial incentives for producers would encourage environmental behaviour. More recently, Hutton and Markley (1991) designed and studied a financial incentive program to reduce air pollution.


Belk (1988a) conducted an extensive review of literature on the self and the extended-self. The extended-self includes external objects, personal possessions, persons, places, group possessions as well as body parts and vital organs. The implications of nature as extended-self is that a relationship should exist between the incorporation of an object into one's extended self and the care and maintenance of the object. Several studies, although unrelated to nature specifically, have confirmed this hypothesis (Belk 1988b, 1987). Newer objects or objects that are highly cathected tend to elicit higher involvement than their older counterparts (Richins & Bloch, 1986). Possessions also aid in constructing and maintaining a sense of past which is crucial to a sense of self. The self extends not only into the present material self but forward and backward into time (Belk, 1990). Belk (1988a) suggests that natural wonders can be incorporated into the extended self in order that we enhance feelings of immortality and having a place in the world.

McClelland (1951) suggests that the more control that we exert over an external object the more likely we are to consider it a part of our extended selves. So why do we not consider nature as part of our extended self since we exert so much control over it?

Processes of self-extension:

Sartre (1943) suggests three ways in which we learn to regard an object as part of self: control/mastery, creation and knowledge. The implications of this relate to how people can be taught to see nature as extended-self:

Nature can become part of self through appropriating or controlling it for our own personal use. For example, some people may learn to climb mountains making the mountain part of their extended self. Also, making property public might allow individuals to consider a specific part of nature as a component of their extended-self. This theory was confirmed by work done by McClelland (1951).

Giving possessions to others or destroying possessions are also a means by which one exerts a special form of control and is therefore a means of extending the self. This was confirmed in research by Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton (1981). It could be that our destruction of nature is simply another way of making it part of the self.

The second way, proposed by Sartre (1943), of incorporating an object into one's sense of self is through creation. Sartre suggests that buying an object is merely another form of creating the object and even the latent buying power of money contributes to sense of self. An example of this may be seen in certain interest groups such as "Friends of the forest" who buy/sponsor trees.

A third way in which objects become a part of self is by knowing them (person, place or thing). People who go "back to nature" will undoubtedly have more contact with nature and thus, it becomes more familiar and less foreign. It is likely that those more familiar with the great outdoors are more likely to consider it part of their extended self.

Belk's (1988a) concept of the extended-self is criticised by some for being a vague and unidentifiable notion. Belk (1989) states that measurement of the concept is in fact possible through an adapted version of Prelinger's (1959) test so the extended-self can, in fact, be useful in both positivistic and nonpositivistic research but favours using qualitative data.

Finally in postmodernism there is a de-naturalising of the natural. Paradoxically, postmodernism while acutely aware of ideology realises that no discourse can stand outside of ideology. The words "nature" and "natural" in this context become problematic because it is assumed that everything is in one sense "cultural" because it is coming to us always mediated by representations which include language. Not only is the word "nature" a difficulty in postmodernist thought, so is the idea of the "self" or "subject" (Flax,1987). In postmodernist thought "subjectivity is represented as something in process, never as fixed and never as autonomous, outside history. It is always a gendered subjectivity, rooted also in class, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation" (Hutcheon, 1989:39).

Postmodernism is good at foregrounding unacknowledged politics. It dismisses older ideas of a stable, coherent self as belonging to another time and concludes, for example, that this sense of self was simple confirmed by the representations of self that were held at that time.


Everden (1989) has proposed three ways in which we can view nature: Nature-as-object, nature-as-self and nature-as-miracle. Nature-as-object has been the traditional orientation for the modern Westernised world and appears to have amplified our ecological crisis. Nature-as-self is proposed as an alternative view which should result in humankind taking a more gentle and caring attitude towards the natural environment. Marketing researchers have done a considerable amount of interesting work relating to the issue of the self but have not taken this issue a step further and related it to the environmental crisis.

Marketing is still dominated by and wrestling with the positivist-empiricist method of neo-classical microeconomic theory. Recent work on critical theory with its emphasis on interdisciplinary study and its goal of seeking social change may help move marketing into the postmodern period.

The economics literature argues that the move into the modern period resulted in a nature-as-object orientation. Marketing research has confirmed that a large portion of the general population are adherents to creationist ideas and believe that no crisis exists as technology will always overcome any present day environmental dilemma. This type of thinking, most certainly, makes it difficult for a nature-as-self orientation to evolve. Three groups (voluntary simplifiers, socially concerned consumers and ecologically concerned consumers) were proposed and attempts were made to identify these consumers using a multitude of segmenting variable. No consistent and significant results were found.

Finally, marketing strategy literature in relation to the environment was reviewed and divided into the traditional marketing mix of product, promotion, place and price. As noted earlier, the discipline of marketing seems to be caught up in examining the traditional cleavages. As a result, marketing has fallen behind other disciplines in proposing new paradigms that explain ecological awareness. Marketing needs to look further and deeper than demographics and other segmentation variables in explaining and describing the ecologically concerned consumer. Since social marketing, as defined by Kotler and Zaltman (1971:3-5), involves "influencing the acceptability of social ideas" and is a "framework for planning and implementing social change" it seems reasonable that marketing should be concerned with the issue of ecological awareness and its related implications. Critical theory with its postmodern perspective should become the approach for seeking this type of knowledge. Paradigms and issues of the self need to be examined with both a historical and interdisciplinary approach. Critical theory aims at improving the quality of human life and, as such, it appears to be the appropriate vehicle for investigating environmental marketing and related issues.

It has been reported that consumer confidence in environmental products is failing due to marketing's overuse of environmentally friendly product claims. Critical theory in consumer research attempts to resolve tensions between public and private interests by providing a systematic approach to revealing deception and its consequences as well as providing a way to achieve competitive advantage without contradicting public interest (Murray & Ozanne, 1991).

A theme that keeps recurring in the literature has been the need for consumer education as it has been found that environmental behaviour often hinges on environmental knowledge. It has been previously noted that much of the present day North American values had been taught through the advertising medium. It may now possible to promote new ideas such as nature-as-self through the same medium.


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Annamma Joy, Concordia University
Lisa Auchinachie, Concordia University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21 | 1994

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