[ Back ]

Title

The relationships between environmental identity intensity, salience and pro-environmental consumption

Author Leïla RAHMANI
Director of thesis Czellar, Sandor (University of Lausanne), sandor.czellar@unil.ch
Co-director of thesis
Summary of thesis

Abstract:

Today more than ever, individuals, companies and governments are concerned about the environmental impact of our society, including the impact of our consumption choices. Many of the important decisions that we as consumers make can be affected by motivations related to our environmental identity, which reflects our sense of connection to nature. Environmental identity has been shown to relate to both self-reported and real individual behaviors in the literature. In this research, we study the role of two particular aspects of environmental identity (intensity and salience) on both self-reported and real consumption behaviors. We have conducted four studies (an online survey, two lab experiments and an online experiment). Our findings reveal a stronger influence of environmental identity salience (vs. intensity) on both self-reported and real sustainable consumption, bearing implications for research and practice aiming to promote sustainable consumption. Our research stresses the importance of voluntary (vs. constrained) consumer behaviors in an effort to promote more sustainable lifestyles.

 

Motivation:

Today more than ever, individuals, companies and governments are concerned about the environmental impact of our society, including the impact of our consumption choices (McKenzie et al., 2012). Many of the important decisions that we as consumers make can be affected by motivations related to our environmental identity (Schultz, 2002). In this research, we study the role of two particular aspects of environmental identity (intensity and salience) on both self-reported and real consumption behaviors.

 

Conceptualization:

This paper is based on the notion that consumers’ likelihood of engaging in sustainable behaviors may depend on their individual connection to nature (Clayton 2003, Schultz, 2002). Various types of concepts have been identified in the literature in relation to environmental identity (Clayton, 2012). Environmental identity intensity can be viewed as “the belief that the environment is important to us and an important part of who we are” (Clayton, 2003, pp. 45-46), and has received close research attention in recent years. It is correlated both with self-reported (e. g., Tam, 2013) and real environmental behavior (e.g., Frantz & Mayer, 2014; Martin & Czellar, 2016), as well as general well-being measures (Howell et al., 2011; Mayer & Frantz, 2004; Zelenski & Nisbet, 2014).

 

A concept we know less about is environmental identity salience and research in environmental psychology is scarce and inconclusive about its effect on real sustainable behaviors (e.g. Arendt and Matthes, 2016). Yet, research based on identity theory suggests that environmental identity salience may play an important role in pro-environmental consumption (Reed et al, 2012). Consumers may hold multiple identities across situations (Puntoni et al., 2011). Whether or not they will engage in pro-environmental behaviors may depend on the salience of their environmental identity in a given consumption context (Reed et al., 2012). Environmental identity salience can be influenced by different contextual factors such as identity cues, marketing stimuli, and the social context (Forehand et al., 2002).

 

Prior studies have demonstrated that specific environmental motivations may underlie sustainable behaviors (Stern, 2000; De Groot & Steg, 2010; Schultz, 2001). Those motivations are defined by Schultz (2001) through three distinctive considerations – egoistic, biospheric and altruistic concerns. It is through those three types of concerns that we explore the mediation process between environmental identity salience and sustainable behaviors.

 

Based on the above-mentioned concepts, we propose the following hypotheses:

 

H1: The higher the salience of the consumer’s environmental identity in a decision context, the more the consumer will tend to behave in a pro-environmental manner.

H2: The more intense the consumer’s environmental identity, the more the consumer will tend to behave in a pro-environmental manner.

H3: The higher the intensity of the consumer’s environmental identity, the stronger (weaker) the effect of environmental identity salience on sustainable behavior

H4: The relationship between environmental identity salience and sustainable behaviors will be mediated by egoistic concerns.

H5: The relationship between environmental identity salience and sustainable behaviors will be mediated by biospheric concerns.

H6: The relationship between environmental identity salience and sustainable behaviors will not be mediated by altruistic concerns.

 

Methodology:

We have conducted four studies. The first study showed some evidence of the influence of environmental identity intensity and salience on pro-environmental behaviors. The second study revealed the importance of the impact of the environmental identity salience on the evaluation of sustainable products. The third study showed the influence of a salient environmental identity on real sustainable behaviors. The last study explored the mediation process.

 

Conclusion

This research examines the relationships between environmental identity, its salience and pro-environmental behaviors. The results from our studies support most of our hypotheses (H1, H2, H4, H5 & H6), with the exception of the interaction between environmental identity salience and environmental identity intensity (H3). Those findings provide novel insights on identity effects in sustainable consumption. Past research found positive links between environmental identity intensity and sustainable behaviors (e.g., Tam, 2013), corroborated in most of our studies. Extant evidence about the link between environmental identity salience and behavior is inconclusive and mixed (e.g., Arendt & Matthes, 2016; Hahnel et al. 2014; Verplanken & Holland, 2002). Our results clearly indicate main effects for identity intensity and salience, with a stronger effect for salience. This latter result can be good news for marketers wishing to promote pro-environmental behaviors with standardized messages among broad consumer populations. Surprisingly, we failed to find an interaction effect between identity salience and intensity in any of our studies. The next steps in this research program look into the reasons behind this unexpected finding, shedding light on the potential differences between environmental identity and other types of consumer identities. Finally, we also would like to experimentally manipulate our mediating variables.

Status middle
Administrative delay for the defence 2022
URL
LinkedIn
Facebook
Twitter
Xing