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Culture & Identity Final Paper

Triodos: a link between globalization , consumer activism and identity.


Arthur Meert

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[Peter Peters]

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Final Paper

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Table of content
Introduction ................................................................................................................................ 3

Triodos and liberalization and internationalization: consumer activism ............................ 4


Triodos and universalization: a new sense of distinction ................................................... 6


Triodos and westernization : a return to ethical values of ascetic Protestantism ................ 7


Triodos and respatialization : a return to a more human and local dimension ................... 9


Conclusion ........................................................................................................................ 11

References ................................................................................................................................ 12


The 21st century can be defined as the era of globalization (Bude&Durrschmidt, 2010). While
the Oxford Dictionary defines it as " The process by which businesses or other organizations
develop international influence or start operating on an international scale"("globalization",
n.d., para1), Scholte (2005) explains that the concept can be understood from very different
(though very interlinked) perspectives - namely internationalization, liberalization,
universalization, modernization, and respatialization (p16). Two of them relate directly to the
economy: internationalization and the liberalization. While the former has allowed more
cross countries relations and thus more interdependence between them, the latter relates to the
removal of borders and other mechanisms to enhance "a world economy"(p16). However, as a
result of such phenomenon, some authors, such as Hertz (2001) has pointed out that big
corporations have become so influential that they are "silently taking over" the political scene.
Indeed, the economic factors have reached such a level of importance that big industries are
now influencing, almost dictating the political decisions.
Such observations have led certain people to realize that they could 're-gain' influence
through their consumption (thus influencing the big corporations directly) rather than through
their vote (only influencing politicians, who, according to Hertz (2001), have decreasing
influence). Such phenomenon is called political consumerism or consumer activism. It is
defined as "the actions by the people who make choices among producers and products with
the goal of changing objectionable institutional or market practices" (Micheletti in
Jacobsen&Dulsrud, 2007, p470).
The increasing number of enterprises featuring Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
principles is a result of such activism (Cowton&Thompson, 2000). What characterizes these
enterprises is their emphasis not only on the financial objectives but also, and mainly, the
social impacts it aims to have. Additionally, Marin & all (2008) have pointed out the
importance of identity salience in the effects of CSR on consumer behavior. It transpires from
their researches that "company's CSR initiatives allow consumers to identify with the
company on the basis of a perceived overlap between their own identities and that of the
company" (p66). Furthermore, the research shows that the more consumer-company
identification, the more loyalty the consumer will have towards that company. This notion of
identification appears to be quite relevant in the context of globalization. Indeed, Scholte's
(2005) three other approaches of globalization, namely modernity, universalization and
respatialization have led to what many authors call a crisis of identity (Scholte, 2005;
Giddens, 2001; Bude&Durrschmidt, 2010) .


This paper seeks to link two dimensions resulting from globalization: consumer
activism and identity crisis. To do so, it sheds light on Triodos. It is a sustainable bank, an
example of an enterprise resulting from the influence of consumer activism which promotes
its CSR. Due to the limitation of this paper, the analysis focuses on Triodos advertising
(YouTube videos and first hand documents). The research question driving this analysis is
"How does Triodos uses the crisis of identity as a tool to foster their goal, and thus consumer
activism?". The paper argues that Triodos advertising seeks to create a sense of identity which
deal with the different dimensions of globalization that Scholte (2005) has listed. In the light
of Marin & all (2008) findings on the relevance of identity salience, it argues that such
identification process serves as a tool to target and fidelize a wide group of potential 'clients'
frustrated, to some extent, with globalization.
The first section of the paper presents the case study, Triodos and explains how
consumer activism responds to economic features of globalization, namely
internationalization and liberalization. Furthermore, it discusses how Foster's concept of
"economy of qualities" and "value co-creation" (2007, pp 711-717) relate to the identity of the
consumer. The second section discusses the universal dimension of globalization. It uses
Bourdieu (1986) Sense of Distinction and links it to the great emphasis put on 'choice' and
'differences' in Triodos advertising policy. It also introduces the idea of 'ethical capital' as a
new mean for distinction. Thirdly, it compare the bank's philosophy to the one of Ascetic
Protestantism (Weber, 2001) and show how Triodos tackles globalization understood as
modernization by bringing ethical values to its notion of identity. Through a discussion on the
concept of the "home comer" (Bude&Durrschmidt, 2010), the fourth section shows how
Triodos addresses the issue raised by respatialization. The conclusion summarizes how the
different issues resulting from globalization are tackled and brought into a new sense of
identity by Triodos advertising policy. Furthermore, it argues that bringing a sense of identity
to consumer activism makes Triodos, and CSR in general, a lasting and relevant tool for
consumer activism.

1. Triodos and liberalization and internationalization: consumer

As it was touched upon in the introduction, the prime goal of Triodos Bank is to propose an
alternative to traditional banks practices. According to its website, it was created in order to
promote a three way approach to the banking sector focusing on (1) people, (2) planet & (3)


profit (Triodos, n.d.). It opposes the traditional profit driven approach that internationalization
and liberalization (but also westernization of values such as capitalism) of the economy has
tended to promote. Oppositely, Triodos Bank focus is to provide its investors to spend/invest
money exclusively in projects that support social, cultural or environmental positive changes.
Investing in the bank is thus definitely a form of consumer activism. Indeed, to refer to
Micheletti's definition, it allows its client, through their choice of banks to foster their goal of
changing the banks practices (mainly profit driven) towards positive societal changes.
By calling its clients "partners", Triodos clearly acknowledges Foster's concepts of
economy of quality and value cocreation (2007, pp711-17) that directly relate to the potential
of consumer activism. Indeed, these reflect the idea that one product life cycle is as much
influenced by its designers than its consumers and that, consequently, the consumers is a
powerful agent in the creation of the value of a product (ibid). In the case of Triodos, the bank
would not have had any relevance if no clients (should I say partners) had invested their
money there. This is even more relevant in the case of the sustainable bank who often
explains in its advertising that the only money being used in the projects they support is the
one being invested by the clients themselves.
Already one can observe how one can link consumer activism to the identity
dimension. Indeed, even if this paper does not discusses this issue extensively, the feeling of
not having influence of politics and governance as citizen must have implications identitywise. Triodos deals with such issue. Indeed, its philosophy is to re-places its partners as the
central actor influence policy making. They are the ones to decide whether they wish an
economy focused on sustainable and long term perspectives or if they prefer a short term and
exclusively profit driven perspective that other banks offer. This idea of the individual
influencing change comes back many times in Triodos YouTube videos. For example one
says "What you do everyday can make a difference", it also says "all these small acts can
contribute to a big change" (Triodos Bank BE, 2013a) another presents Triodos and concludes
by stating "this is how you contribute to a better world"1(Triodos Bank BE, 2013b)
This first section showed how consumer activism can shift the role - and the identity,
to a certain extent - of a passive (non-influencial) citizen to a pro active (influential)
consumer. Follesdal (2004) supports such a claim as he states that one of the motivations
driving consumer activism is the construction of identity (self understanding or respect for
other) (in Jacobsen&Dulsrud, 2007, p471). Consumer activism can clearly be related to a shift

directly translated from French


of identity. The coming sections shows Triodos advertising implies different features of such
new identity.

2. Triodos and universalization: a new sense of distinction

By universalization, Scholte (2005) implies that globalization created a "wide synthesis of
cultures" (p16). Indeed, products and experiences have become more accessible worldwide.
For example, Chinese food, can be found almost as easily in USA than in China. Many
features of cultural identity have been diminished by the fact that one can find them
everywhere. Thus, it has been argued that universalization has led to cultural
homogenization(Scholte, 2005, p26). Considering Bourdieu's Sense of Distinction (1986),
universalization thus diminishes one's mean for differentiation, which closely linked to
identity building.
Indeed, in his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Bourdieu
(1986) discusses how people define themselves (or their class they belong to) through the
amount and use of their various capitals. He distinguishes two main types of capital:
economic and cultural capitals (he also mentions social and symbolic capital). According to
him "each class fraction [is] characterized by a certain configuration of this distribution [of
capitals] to which there corresponds a certain life-style" (p260). In this way, one's tastes, ie
one's cultural capital, is part of his/her identity as it relates to the social class one belongs to.
The point here is not to enter into a broad discussion of Bourdieu's work. However,
what is interesting here is how the sociologist explains that one's taste and preferences
contribute to define one's identity. Thus, he implies that people by the choices they make to
differentiate themselves from other, contribute to define themselves (their identity) in society.
From that perspective, universalization - implying an increased accessibility to cultural
features all around the world - partially alters/diminished the relevancy of cultural tastes and
preferences (cultural capital) as a mean to define one's identity.
From that last assumption one could try to apply Bourdieu's theory to the case of
Triodos. Indeed, in many of the YouTube videos advertising for Triodos, one can observe a
great emphasis on the idea that individuals, through their choices, have the power "to change
the future", "to set something new in motion": to be different. Many examples can be found in
various videos. In one video (Triodos Bank UK, 2013a), it says "start making a positive
change"; in another video, one employee being interviewed says "we are proud to show how
we are different" (Triodos Bank UK, 2012). The video "Triodos Bank. Welcome to


sustainable banking" (Triodos Bank UK, 2011) goes even further. It firstly explains that "it is
a different kind of bank" in which they "do business differently"; a manager of an enterprise
being interviewed also adds that "we work with people who choose to work with Triodos and
that matters to us". Through this statement, one could argue that Triodos advertising is based
on the idea of choosing to be different
Thus, to come back to Bourdieu's theoretical framework, one could introduce another
type of capital: an ethical capital. The same way that one tastes would contribute to define
oneself; increasing one's ethical capital (in this case, being involved in Triodos) would also be
a mean to distinguish oneself. In such framework, one might see more clearly how Triodos
seeks to create gather its clients/partners around a certain common sense of identity.
So far, the paper has shown that Triodos contributes to build a sense of identity characterized
by (1) an active role to influence governance and (2) the choice to define oneself differently
(through ethical capital). The ethical dimension of Triodos identity is further explored in the
next section.

3. Triodos and westernization : a return to ethical values of ascetic

Another aspect of globalization that Triodos advertising deals with is westernization. By
westernization, one approaches globalization as "a dynamic whereby the social structures of
modernity (capitalism, rationalism, industrialism, bureaucratism, individualism and so on) are
spread all over the world, destroying pre existent culture and local self determination"
(Scholte, 2005, p16). From that understanding, globalization has led to a certain
universalization of the 'good values'. However, as it appears more and more clearly
throughout the paper, Triodos does not necessarily go along these values. When comparing
Triodos philosophy to one depicted by Weber (2001) on the Ascetics of Protestantism, one
sees many similarities.
In one video (Triodos Bank BE, 2013a) Triodos opposes the idea of an economy
based on individualism or capitalism (in its extreme sense). Alternatively it favors a greener,
more equal an more humane economy. Here, one can observe a first similarity with Weber's
observations that "wealth as such is a great danger; its temptation never end, and its pursuit
(...) is morally suspect"(p103) who adds that "The real moral objection is to relaxation in the
security of possession (...) distraction from the pursuit of a righteous life" (p104).


Triodos project is based on the idea that it only invests towards positive changes for
human and society. More specifically, it focuses on positive social, environmental and
cultural changes (Triodos Bank, 2010). This goes along the approbation of the Protestant
ethics of the "rational and utilitarian uses of wealth (...) for the needs of the individuals and
the community" (Weber, 2001, p115).
Another important feature of Triodos is that it does not seek or pretend to offer the
best interest rates on the market. As it was explained above it rather focuses on the cause it
defends. This is closely linked to Protestant idea that "restraints imposed upon the
consumption of wealth naturally served to increase it by making possible the productive
investment of capital" (p116). While Triodos refers to investment and Weber to consumption,
the overarching idea behind it is similar: limiting one's spending (Weber) or returns (Triodos)
in order to allow productive, meaningful investment. In both cases, the emphasis must be on a
wider (and long term) perspective as opposed to the immediate satisfaction of consuming or
gaining more interest rates.
Additionally, Triodos, through its "Social Target Account" offers its investors the
opportunity to choose how their money will be used(Cowton & Thompson, 2000, p149). One
can thus choose to support an environmental cause as well as another one might support a
social cause (such as education for example) according to their interest. These investment
choices have similarities with the idea of "calling" that Weber (2001) described. Indeed, the
calling, as well as a (targeted) investment, is useful both in moral terms and private
profitableness (Weber, 2001, p108) as it provides a double return: financial (from the interest
rate) and social (from the investment being useful to a specific societal cause). Furthermore,
similarly to "the faithful Christian [who] must follow the call by taking advantage of the
opportunity" (p108) the Triodos investor takes advantage of the opportunity of investing by
defending an cause particularly important to his eyes.
Finally, the image of the 'iron cage' that Weber used is quite eloquent. What he
explained is that "material goods have gained an increasing [...] and inexorable power over
the lives of men" (p124) and that the idea of duty in one's calling is fading away. He
explained his fear that people will live in such cage, only driven by capitalistic and wealth
seeking motives (pp123-24). Triodos clearly responses to that by providing "a great rebirth of
old ideas and ideals"(ibid) of ethical, sustainable values. What is striking is that that very last
quote refers to one of the possible scenario Weber had imagined (hoped?) as a response to
such cage. In that matter, Triodos is clearly a rebirth ethical values of Protestantism.


As the analysis showed, their philosophies are closely related. However, there is an important
feature that differs from one another: namely God. In the case of Triodos, one could argue
that the concept of "God" is replaced by the personal satisfaction of contributing to a more
ethical world. Given the limitation of this paper, the analysis does not go further into this

4. Triodos and respatialization : a return to a more human and

local dimension
Another dimension of globalization on which Triodos advertising focuses on relates to
respatialization. On a practical level, this concept and its link to globalization is fairly easy to
capture. In agrarian societies, social relations were limited to a defined time and place (say
1pm at the church) and implied a physical presence, which Lyon (2001) also calls co
presence. Globalization, through new modes of transportations, and communication have
dissembedded the nature of social relations (Bude&Durrschmidt, 2010; Giddens, 2001). New
transportation means have helped to deal with both time and place as they allowed to travel
from one place to another in very short time (think of airplanes connecting Belgium to Spain
in two hours). New communications means have also dealt with this constraint of time and
place by allowing social relations to take place in two different places at any time. These new
possibilities of social relations are characterized by the absence of physical and personal
interactions - as one connects with an increasing number of people, one does not necessarily
take/have the time to get to know that person personally . At first, these possibilities opened
"the social arena of unlimited options of connectivity" (Bude&Durrschmidt, 2010, p483). It
gave the impression that "the world had become a small village". It is undeniable that such
respatialization have had very positive consequences in terms of worldwide travel,
accessibility, communications, and other aspects of globalization such as liberalization.
However, Bude&Durrschmidt (2010) argue that the emotional dimension of such
phenomenon has been underestimated. As they explain, the facts that borders are being
removed for practical and economic reasons (EU, free market, free movement etc) does not
imply that they do not "continue to work in a pre-institutional sense as 'spaces of narrative
fidelity'"(p489). These symbolic, cultural borders are still relevant when it comes to identity
shaping. These borders still distinguish one's identity from the Other. The two authors explain
that respatialization has thus created a sense of 'homesickness'. This concept is closely related
to the crisis of identity that has resulted from globalization. Indeed, as the world has become


such a smaller place where one can travel/communicate everywhere easily, one has lost his
feeling of belonging, his identity. Thus, as "belonging is tied to a social bond, through the
commitment to a social entity while globality is not" (p492), the 'homecomer' seeks to re-find
his identity by going back to his local roots. This does not imply that the 'homecomer'
neglects the global dimension of the world but simply acknowledges the importance of the
place where s/he can rest. Such acknowledgement is expressed to one's commitments towards
their local place (p493).
Additionally to that, Giddens (2001) highlights how the notion of trust has changed as
a result of the dissembedding of social relations. He explains how globalization has led to the
creation of an "expert system". These experts are individuals, which one does not necessarily
know (as a result of lack of personal and physical social relations), but trust based on faith but
also other guarantees of their expertise (diplomas, by control of regulatory agencies etc)
(pp27-29). However, this notion of 'trust' is closely related to the one of 'risk' and thus a
certain insecurity. In the perspective of the 'homecomer', one would assume that going back
to the local dimension also implies a higher degree of trust.
Triodos takes into account both these dimensions (home comer and trust) in its advertising
It emphasizes on its local, and emotional dimensions through different means. Firstly,
its leitmotiv is quite eloquent "Follow your heart, use your head". The notion of 'heart' clearly
refers to the emotional dimension and particularly to love. With the famous quote "Home is
where your heart belongs" the link between heart, emotions and local dimension is clearly
made. Secondly, in its different videos, Triodos always shows images of rather small groups,
mostly families (Triodos Bank BE, 2013a, 2013c; Triodos Bank UK, 2012, 2011). Again,
these images clearly link Triodos to a very local, familial dimension. This is further reinforced
through some interviews that it does (Triodos Bank BE, 2013c). When interviewing their
customers (or partners), only their first name is displayed. This gives the impression that
Triodos is a big family where everybody knows one another. Also, when presenting the
various projects, it is interesting to see that they are all based either in a country where the
bank has branches (while Triodos projects are certainly not limited to Europe) (Triodos Bank
UK, 2011).
The notion of trust is very linked to the local and family dimension. Indeed, family
and local people are people you have physical and personal relations with. Thus all the
previous considerations can be considered as underlying the idea of a regained trust.
Furthermore, Trust is explicitly mentioned in one video(Triodos Bank UK, 2011).


Additionally, in that same video, managers of enterprises financed by Triodos explain in a

very spontaneous way how Triodos has helped them. This reinforce this idea of personal trust.

5. Conclusion
Through this paper, the analysis has sought to show how Triodos has integrated the notion of
identity into its advertising policy. I have argued that Triodos has used the crisis of identity
that resulted from globalization to stress on a new identity for the costumers/partners (and
specifically for Triodos'). This new identity takes into account the different dimension of
globalization that Scholte (2005) has acknowledged. Firstly, Triodos introduces the idea of
individual who can have an active role in influencing governance through consumer activism.
Secondly, by stressing on the notion of 'choice' and 'difference', it stresses on the customer
opportunity to distinguish himself (as opposed to the homogenization of the world). Thirdly,
this active and different identity is granted with ethical values that goes against the
westernization of values such as capitalism or individualism. Finally, this new active,
different and ethical identity also stresses on local and personal dimension of social relations
thus providing a response to the homesickness the respatialization of social relations has
resulted to.
If one assumes that Marin & all (2008) article on the influence of identity relevance to
consumer behavior is valid and that Triodos is aware of such a fact, one could argue that their
advertising policy is well designed. From this assumption, it appears that Triodos targets, in
term of investors/customers, are people that are somehow frustrated with globalization. I
believe that such assumption appears to be valid. Indeed, the very fact of looking into another
system of bank reflects one's interest in alternative way of functioning to the modern and
global one. The example of Triodos, as an example of enterprise featuring Corporate Social
Responsibility, could be an archetype of typical future enterprise as it encompasses many
dimensions of crisis resulting from globalization: crisis of identity, economic crisis as well as
political crisis.
In terms of limitations, it must be acknowledged that only first hand documents from
Triodos website, as well as YouTube videos have been analyzed. Further researches should be
made on the extent to which advertising and actual facts correlates. Also, it would be
interesting to undertake interviews with Triodos clients in order to see if there is any
correlation between ethical and economic capital, relating this issue to Bourdieu's framework.


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