Research background

Sustainable development is a common effort, in which patterns of production and consumption must align towards an equilibrium of economic, societal, and environmental sustainability to ensure equal opportunities of life quality to current and future generations. Our current lifestyles are embedded in a fossil-fuel dependent socio-economic system and shaped by an overconsumption of natural resources. The demand from private households assumes between 50% to 80% of the world wide land use, material and water consumptions and thereby makes up for 60% of the consumption based GHG emissions (Hertwich et al., 2015). Consequentially, behavior-driven approaches on the consumption side must complement technology-driven approaches on the production side. In this light, the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 provides a guideline to work towards sustainable production and consumption with SDG 12.

Extant knowledge and research aim

Scholars of marketing, consumer behavior and environmental psychology recognized the current upraise of consumers’ dispositions towards sustainability as a leverage for sustainable consumption patterns. As a result of extensive investigations, researchers have conceptualized a plethora of attitudes, beliefs, identities and orientations, mainly focusing on environmental sustainability and the acquisition and disposal phase of consumption. A first review of the leading journals in the field of marketing, consumer behavior and environmental psychology revealed over 50 concepts used to describe environmental sustainability on an individual-level. Examples are constructs such as consciousness for sustainable consumption (Balderjahn et al., 2013), green consumer value (Haws, Winterich, & Naylor, 2014) and ecological worldviews, to name but a few. Concerning the measurement of the constructs, researchers often use ad-hoc scales lacking elaborate scale development. This situation leads to fragmented substantive results and impacts the comparability of substantive research.

I therefore aim to develop a taxonomy of consumer dispositions towards environmental sustainability and thereby conceptually contribute to the research on individual-level approaches to sustainable consumption. The objective is to provide overview and guidance to researchers through the conceptual systemization of constructs on the one hand and the identification of methodological and substantive gaps in the literature, on the other. With regard to the former aim, a clarification for multitude of overlapping constructs and broad nomological networks of the constructs is a target. With regard to the second aim, an insight into the constructs’ different stages of operationalization and empirical validations is an objective.

Figure 1 Structure of the first planned conceptual contribution of the PhD-Project


Constructs that assess environmental sustainability are collected in a comprehensive literature review, with a focus on their construct definitions, underlying theories, operationalization and use within substantive research. Figure 1 above shows the theories underlying the concepts identified in the review, along with examples of empirical findings. The constructs focused on in the first research phase, seen in Figure 1 above, result from the application of in- and exclusion criteria defined in the first research step. The analysis of commonalities and differences between these constructs leads to the identification of key dimensions and conceptual domains used for the development of a taxonomy. Examples are a focus on consumption and focus on environmental sustainability. The operationalization of the constructs and the psychometrical properties of the scales are reviewed in the second research step. The scales are checked based on the main steps of a scale development (Anderson & Gerbing, 1988).

Intended contribution

The SDG 12 calls for a change in consumption patterns towards more sustainable lifestyles. Within everyday life, this requires research in the most relevant consumption categories, food, shelter and mobility, that account for 55% to 65% of the total impacts through land, water and material use (Hertwich et al., 2015).The PhD-projects aims to contribute to this endeavor by three planned conceptual contributions, (1) providing the guidance for future empirical research, (2) the guiding future substantive research, and (3) suggesting an agenda for future research. The consolidation of consumer-level sustainability concepts, should further enable empirical research in measuring individual-level sustainability throughout different life domains. 

References (selection)

Anderson, J. C., & Gerbing, D. W. (1988). Structural equation modeling in practice: A review and recommended two-step approach. Psychological Bulletin, 103(3), 411–423.

Balderjahn, I., Buerke, A., Kirchgeorg, M., Peyer, M., Seegebarth, B., & Wiedmann, K.-P. (2013). Consciousness for sustainable consumption: scale development and new insights in the economic dimension of consumers’ sustainability. AMS Review, 3(4), 181–192.

Haws, K. L., Winterich, K. P., & Naylor, R. W. (2014). Seeing the world through GREEN-tinted glasses: Green consumption values and responses to environmentally friendly products ☆. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24, 336–354.

Hertwich, E. G., Vita, G., Wood, R., Ivanova, D., Tukker, A., Stadler, K., & Steen-Olsen, K. (2015). Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 20(3), 526–536.