From holistically to accidentally sustainable: A study of motivations and identity expression in sustainable living

Purpose: This paper aims to examine the role of individual action in addressing challenges of sustainability, and to help marketing scholars and practitioners better understand what motivates sustainable living. Design/methodology/approach: Semistructured interviews with 35 individuals self-identifying as sustainable shed light on motivations and identity expression in sustainable living. Four Drive Theory, and Personal and Social Identity Theory (operationalized through the Dynamic Model of Identity Development), provide this study’s guiding theoretical framework. Data analysis was informed by the Gioia methodology. Findings: Individuals differently express their personal and social identities through sustainable living, and are differently motivated to live sustainably. Those expressing personal identity salience through sustainable living draw on a broader set of motivations than those expressing social identity salience. This results in varying levels of commitment to sustainable living, with differences also found in individuals’ personal satisfaction derived from their sustainable living efforts. Based on these findings, a novel typology of sustainable individuals is developed. Research limitations/implications: This study is limited by its focus on one geographic area and relatively small sample size. A key implication is the need to consider both personal and social identity when studying behavior in other marketing contexts. Practical implications: The research provides important insights for marketing practitioners, policymakers and others seeking to better categorize sustainable individuals and target marketing messages to encourage sustainable behaviors. Originality/value: This paper contributes to marketing scholarship by providing new insights on the role of identity and motivations in sustainable living. It introduces a novel typology of sustainable individuals, founded on differences in identity expression and motivational drives, which are also associated with the range of sustainable behaviors people engage with and how individuals make sense of these behaviors.


motivation  identity  sustainable living 


Irene Garnelo-Gomez, Kevin Money, and David Littlewood (2022). From holistically to accidentally sustainable: A study of motivations and identity expression in sustainable living. European Journal of Marketing, 56(12), Pages 3272-3312.



Irene Garnelo-Gomez
Kevin Money
David Littlewood

European Journal of Marketing | 2022

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