Is ethical consumption a contradiction?

22.12.2010 09:46

Consumption and Sustainability. A contradiction?

Ulrike Jaspers Marketing and communication
Goethe University Frankfurt am Main

FRANKFURT. It is well known that our lifestyle is extremely demanding on resources. But only a minority is prepared to change their consumer behavior in the long term. How can this contradiction between knowledge about one's own resource consumption and concern for the environment on the one hand and less sustainable consumption behavior on the other hand be explained? The Frankfurt sociologist Prof. Birgit Blättel-Mink examines different socio-cultural milieus, each of which is assigned to an ideal-typical lifestyle, with regard to their environmental awareness and behavior.

The average German leaves an ecological footprint of 4.7 hectares on our globe, which is nine times larger than that of an African. If all six billion people on earth were to live as expensively as we do, almost “two and a half earths” would be necessary. The ecological footprint is calculated from a wide variety of factors, including energy consumption, air pollution, land use, water consumption and food consumption. Our lifestyle thus contradicts the goal of the United Nations to give future generations the chance to adequately meet their needs.

Sociologists use lifestyle research tools to compare consumer behavior and environmental awareness. Information about social class is linked with values ​​and specific forms of lifestyle. Blättel-Mink cites two significant examples: “Post-material - well-educated and professionally secure, high-income people - and modern performers - usually younger than 30 years, very well-educated with a high income - often consume more consciously and buy environmentally friendly products more often, they are a burden but with their lifestyle the environment and show hardly any inclination to forego large cars or long-distance travel. Studies show that people with a medium to high level of environmental awareness in so-called "low-cost" areas (such as waste separation and energy-saving heating) act in an environmentally conscious manner, but not in "high-cost" situations (such as without their own car or Long-distance travel).

In recent years, a specific way of life has been making international waves, which market research has identified as the “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability” (LOHAS): A positive environmental attitude goes hand in hand with a willingness to act in an environmentally-oriented manner in many areas. Reasons for this lie in the idea of ​​the "right life", more social justice and the desire to feed yourself and your family healthily. A similar new lifestyle is emerging very recently in Germany, which the researchers call the “socio-ecological lifestyle”. Around seven percent of the people surveyed by the Sinus Institute Heidelberg can be attributed to this lifestyle. Its representatives are well educated, have a middle to high income and belong to the middle class. "The extent to which we are dealing with a trend environment whose orientations will also diffuse in other milieus in the future will become apparent in the future," says the Frankfurt sociologist.

A prerequisite for more sustainable consumption is also a comprehensive information system that provides customers with the knowledge they need when making purchasing decisions. "There is still a lot of catching up to do here, as the Sustainability Council appointed by the Federal Government has determined," adds Blättel-Mink. Certified eco-labels and references to “Fairtrade” products are often difficult to identify for consumers.

Information: Prof. Birgit Blättel-Mink, Sociology with a focus on industrial and organizational sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Bockenheim Campus, Tel .: 069 / 798-22542, [email protected]

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