The Environmental Impact of Anti-Consumption Lifestyles

26 Apr 2022
The latest in the Sasin Research Seminar series was a fascinating talk by Associate Professor Marcelo Vinhal Nepomuceno, which looked at the environmental impact of anti-consumption. The lecture began with an explanation of his various research streams, which include anti-consumption and ethics, hormones and consumer behavior, and social media marketing. This talk would relate to the former. He then introduced the co-authors. The main question posed is how to tackle climate change, and the traditional responses, such as recycling and buying green products, were examined. However, a better option might be to reduce consumption and lead a more sustainable lifestyle. This led to a series of research questions looking at the environmental impact of anti-consumption compared to consumers with a high concern for the environment. There was also a question of how knowledge about sustainability moderates these relationships. The research questions were tackled in two papers with different co-authors. Key concepts and typologies of anti-consumption were then examined. These included aspects such as frugality, tightwadism, and voluntary simplicity. These lifestyles were then contrasted with environmentally concerned consumers, whose purchasing decisions are based on social or environmental criteria – and those who endorse an ecological or ethically-minded worldview. The goal was to see which of these lifestyles had the higher impact and if emission impact knowledge might have an effect, as found in other studies. The way environmental impact could be identified and measured was then examined and incorporated into the research. Associate Professor Nepomuceno then explained his three key hypotheses for his two studies in more detail. These involved looking at the different lifestyles and the effect of emissions impact knowledge. Next, the study methods were explained. For the first study, data was collected via an online survey. It looked at the aspects of frugality, tightwadism, voluntary simplicity, environmental concern, and the frequency of consumption of 27 products and services. How these 27 were selected was also clarified. The results of this study for each of the aspects were then explained. Surprisingly, the one that had the highest effect on reducing environmental impact was tightwadism. Those concerned with the environment also reduced their impact, but not as much as tightwads or others who lived more simply. These findings were discussed in more detail. He then moved on to the second paper, which used a similar methodology for data collection as the first. However, this time the participants were from California as opposed to Germany. To test the two hypotheses for the second study, the same questions were used as before, except for the addition of ethically-minded consumption and the moderating role of knowledge. How the effects of these new measures were calculated was then explained, including some of the problems of rating environmental impact knowledge. The results were largely the same as the first study, with tightwadism having the most significant reduction in environmental impact. Similarly, ecological concern also had an effect, but again, not as strong as simplicity and tightwadism. Surprisingly, the more ethically minded a consumer was, the higher their overall negative impact on the environment, the opposite of expectations. The results supported all the hypotheses, except for the surprising results for ethically minded consumption. The moderating role of Emission Impact Knowledge only affected tightwads but not anyone else. Potential and alternative explanations for the results were examined, along with other problems faced when collecting and analyzing the measurements. The talk was fascinating and informative. It was followed by a lively Q&A session. Topics discussed included looking at causality rather than correlations, common factors that might influence the study such as income, indirect effects, and a look at items measured. Other questions related to the age difference between the two studies and how qualitative methods could be used in the research.  
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