Consumers and climate change: Can the presence of others promote more sustainable consumer choice?

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The IPCC have identified aspects of human activity that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and thereby affect climate change. These include ‘lifestyle’, the behavioural choices we make as consumers in our everyday lives. One important issue is how the presence of others affects consumer choice. Here, we compared the product choices of a set of participants when shopping alone or with friends. We found that people are more likely to select well-known brands, luxury products and organic or eco brands when shopping with friends. Costly signalling theory can explain these findings by suggesting that we display our ‘economic success’ or ‘pro-social orientation’ through our patterns of consumption. However, our participants were significantly more likely to choose low-carbon items when shopping alone. This raises significant concerns about whether carbon labelling can genuinely work as an enabling factor. We suggest how we might raise the social and communicational value of carbon labels.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-56
JournalThe International Journal of Environmental Sustainability
Issue number2
Early online date6 Oct 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Oct 2016


  • consumer choice
  • climate change
  • carbon labelling
  • costly signalling theory


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