Consumption and climate change. Why we say one thing but do another in the face of our greatest threat.

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There is clear evidence that human beings have contributed to climate change through their patterns of consumption, and since we are part of the problem then we must be part of the solution. People say that they are prepared to adapt their behaviour to ameliorate the effects of climate change, but numerous studies have found that little behaviour change actually occurs. This experimental study investigates this issue, by focussing on explicit (self report) attitudes, and implicit (automatic) attitudes to various consumer brands with differing environmental consequences in a behavioural choice task. We found firstly, in line with previous research, that human beings have reflective attitudes and more unconscious and automatic attitudes that are ‘dissociated’. In terms of consumer choice of brands, we found that consumers were particularly sensitive to both big brand information and value in their selection of products, particularly under time pressure. Organic/eco brands were, however, much less favoured, especially under any further time pressure, where processes that are more automatic are evident. Carbon footprint information influenced choice even under time pressure but only in those consumers with a strong positive implicit attitude to carbon footprint. Human beings may well have a ‘divided self’ (reflective versus unconscious attitudes) when it comes to the environment/climate change, and this underlying dissociation might be critical to their behaviour as consumers. This concept may help us understand why relatively little has changed thus far with regard to more sustainable consumption, but might open up new thinking about how we might attempt to promote change in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-538
Issue number213
Early online date6 Oct 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Oct 2016


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