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Futures 37 (2005) 481–504


Green consumption or sustainable lifestyles?

Identifying the sustainable consumer
Andrew Gilg*, Stewart Barr, Nicholas Ford
Department of Geography, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Rennes Drive, Exeter EX4 4RJ, UK
Available online 25 January 2005

This paper examines green consumption in the context of an increasing focus on sustainable
lifestyles. The authors argue that green buying must be seen in the context of wider debates
surrounding the development of sustainable ways of living that incorporate other environmental
actions in an holistic conceptualisation of sustainable lifestyles. This framework is operationalised in
a study of environmental action in and around the home, in which 1600 households in Devon were
asked questions concerning their everyday environmental actions. These results were manipulated so
as to investigate how the different behaviours related to each other and also whether different groups
of individuals could be identified, conforming to different lifestyles. The results suggest that
conventional forms of green consumption can indeed be related to other forms of environmental
action and that at least four different types of environmentalist can be identified. The implications of
these results for policy makers are discussed at the end of the paper.
q 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. The green consumer debate

Green consumption is a term that has come to mean all things to all people. In any one
context, there are alternative discourses that surround alternative forms of green buying,
which might pertain to a range of activities, from purchasing fairly traded tea bags to
buying organic meat. In some cases, these behaviours appear to be in conflict: buying local
food to support local producers (a brand of defensive localism identified by Winter [31]),
as compared to purchasing organically farmed produce (a choice based mainly on
ecological principles, as described by Ilbery et al. [11]). This ever-expanding liturgy of

* Corresponding author. Tel.: C44 1392 26 3350; fax: C44 1392 26 3342.
E-mail address: a.w.gilg@exeter.ac.uk (A. Gilg).

0016-3287/$ - see front matter q 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
482 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

activities and products, which can be used as proxies for green consumption has
necessarily diluted the environmental dimension and incorporated numerous alternative
discourses that relate more readily to sustainability in general.
This paper seeks to examine these diverse set of green behaviours within the context of
research that has examined the social and psychological bases of sustainable lifestyles,
relating not merely to consumption practices, but also to habitual behaviours within the
home. By evaluating such activities in this way, it is anticipated that a more efficacious
understanding of progress towards sustainable lifestyles can be achieved in line with
similar research aims. For example, work by Green and Vergragt [8] who are examining
how consumers might alter their attitudes via a series of stakeholder workshops. Our
research however, is based on a major questionnaire survey of households and thus
provides a better indication of how widespread the adoption of green behaviours might be.
This paper thus examines a study of forty environmental actions and examines how
activities conventionally defined as green consumptive behaviours interact with other
activities, and whether individuals can be categorised according to these interactions.

2. The green consumer

Putting aside for a moment the arguments relating to the definition of green consumption,
previous research into green consumerism has been dominated by rural sociologists and
geographers. In the UK this work has mostly been focused on the links between agricultural
production and consumers, particularly the new food economy (e.g. Gilg and Battershill [7])
and the growth in sales of organic produce (Ilbery et al. [11]). However, considerably less
work has been undertaken on the social and psychological bases of green consumption. In
other words, who buys what, when and why? Researchers have identified three sets of
variables that appear to be influential in classifying the green consumer. These focus around
environmental and social values, socio-demographic variables and psychological factors.

2.1. Environmental values and concern

This is a relatively recent area of research in green consumerism and as such definitive
results and conclusions regarding the role of concern and values are lacking. Research
examining other environmental actions has examined the impact that underlying values
have on behaviour. For example, Steel [27] found compelling evidence to suggest that
high levels of environmental activism were strongly linked to values that considered the
natural environment to be of great importance in someone’s life.
Work on the conceptualisation of environmental values has been given extra impetus in
recent years by the pioneering work of Schwartz [22] who examined the structure of social
values in various nations. He argued that there were essentially two social value
dimensions, pertaining to ‘altruistic—egoistic’ (or pro-social and pro-self) and
‘conservative—open to change’. Stern et al. [28] argued that environmentalists were
more likely to be both altruists and more open to change.
This theme runs alongside Inglehart’s [12] theory of post-materialism, where
environmentally concerned individuals are more likely to hold non-material values.
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 483

Fig. 1. Conceptualisation of social and environmental values.

Indeed, Leonard-Barton [15] has drawn the distinction between those who like an
‘indulgent’ lifestyle and those who are more frugal. These themes are shown
diagrammatically in Fig. 1, running from top left to bottom right. However, these
continua reflect general social values, rather than specific environmental concerns. Two
further continua can be identified. Firstly, the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) which
relates to Dunlap and Van Liere’s [4] and Dunlap et al.’s [5] measure of environmental
values. These range from the notions of ‘spaceship earth’ and ‘nature as delicate’ at one
end of the spectrum to ‘no limits to growth’ and ‘man over nature’ at the other end. These
fundamentally relational values (that is, the relationship between humans and nature) can
also be related to a continuum, reflecting O’Riordan’s [18] concepts of ecocentrism and
technocentrism. In this continuum actions taken towards the environment are evaluated
according to whether individuals believe environmental protection is achieved via
working with nature or by changing it by the use of technology.
Within this context, only a small number of research projects have examined the role of
values on green consumer behaviour although there is a growing interest as exemplified by
Thogerson and Olander [29] who tested the hypothesis that sustainable consumption is
influenced by individual value priorities. There is evidence from a study by Karp [13] that
those engaged in green consumer activities were more likely to hold altruistic values. Stern
et al. [28] also examined Schwartz’s [22] value orientations, although they only found a
relationship between green consumption and a general measure of environmental concern.
More compelling evidence has come from studies by Chan [2] and Roberts [20]. In the
former study, Chan [2] found that those who shopped regularly for ‘green’ products and
spent more on green produce in relation to other products, were more likely to score highly
on his measure of biospherism, which related to a ‘man-nature’ orientation. In the latter
study by Roberts [20] there was evidence that those who scored highly on his
‘Ecologically Conscious Consumer Scale’ were more likely to believe in ‘limits to
growth’, a ‘spaceship earth’ and an ‘equality with nature’. This provides further evidence
484 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

that those more heavily engaged in green consumption are more likely to hold ecocentric
and biospheric values.

2.2. Socio-demographic variables

Although research into the impact of socio-demographic variables on green

consumption has led to the over-simplification of causative relationships, there is still
the stereotypical view, if not a whole truism, that green consumers are young, female, well
educated, liberal and wealthy (Hines et al. [10]). This evidence is partly substantiated by
specific research studies that have examined the impact of age (Roberts [19]; Hallin [9];
Olli et al. [17]), gender (Eagly [6]; Roberts [19]; Olli et al. [17]), education (Olli et al. [17])
political affliction (Dunlap [3]; Olli et al. [17]) and long working hours (Sanne [21]). Such
research suggests that those in older age groups, who are female, well educated, have a
good income and are politically liberal are more likely to engage in green consumption.
These studies therefore provide general support to the general view of the environmen-
talist as a fairly well off mature individual, although there are debates that surround both
the impact of age and income, with research projects varying in their conclusions.

2.3. Psychological factors

Thirdly, there are what can be termed psychological factors that are personal attitudes
held by the individual concerning the behaviour in question. The psychological influences
relating to green consumption can be categorised into the following groups:

† Perceived consumer effectiveness (PCE). This examines the extent to which any one
consumer can have an impact on the environment. It has generally been found that a
high level of PCE results in greater levels of green consumerism (Kinnear et al. [14];
Tucker [30]; Roberts [20]);
† Self efficacy, relating to one’s own ability to take part in green consumption
(Schwepker and Cornwell [24]; Sparks and Shepherd [26]);
† Social responsibility. The extent to which an individual feels morally responsible to
take part (Tucker [30]; Schwepker and Cornwell [24]; Mainerei et al [16]);
† The interaction of the effects of price, quality and brand loyalty (Schuhwerk and
Lefkoff-Haguis [23]; Shrum et al [25]; Mainerei et al. [16]).

Given the different factors that potentially influence green consumer activities, the
research reported in this paper sought to examine these influences within the context of
sustainable lifestyles and the way in which different groups of individuals may form
behavioural types that relate to some or all of the qualities listed above.

3. Sustainable lifestyles research in Devon

The research on which this paper is based was undertaken in the summer of 2002 as part
of a large ESRC-funded project examining environmental action in and around the home
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 485

in Devon, UK. The research sought to examine how different types of environmental
action, such as energy saving, water conservation, waste management and green
consumption were related and what factors influenced different levels of behavioural
The study was focused around a fourteen page questionnaire that asked respondents
how often they undertook a series of pre-determined environmental actions, scoring their
responses on a five point scale from 1 (never) to 5 (always). Respondents were also asked
questions relating to their socio-demographic profile, attitudes and values. The
questionnaire was hand-delivered to 1600 households and collected two to three days
later. Of the 1600 surveys, 400 each were delivered to households in Plymouth, Exeter,
Barnstaple and Mid-Devon, in order to provide a representative sample from both urban
and rural areas. Households were selected by a random procedure developed for sampling
from the Electoral Register. If no response was received at a property, or the householder
declined to participate, the next house was selected.
The response rate was 59%, indicating the number of households originally selected
who participated in the survey, but rose to a 79% return rate from respondents who agreed
to take part and returned usable questionnaires.

4. Results

The findings of the research are divided into three sections. First, the relationship that
conventionally defined green consumer behaviours have to other environmental actions is
considered. Second, an analysis of the frequency with which individuals undertook such
activities is examined. Finally, the different levels of behavioural commitment are
examined in the context of the various factors that have been linked to green consumerism,
such as environmental values, socio-demographics and psychological factors.

4.1. Behavioural linkages: what is green consumption?

Given the premise that green consumption has become so widely defined that its
efficacy as a term has become somewhat meaningless, the research was concerned with
examining the extent to which traditionally defined green consumer behaviours were
linked empirically to other activities. A ‘conventional definition’ refers to the behaviours
that are most regularly referred to as being examples of green consumption. In the case of
this research, these were selected from specific advice provided by the county authority in
Devon (Devon County Council), alongside recommendations from district authorities
(Plymouth City Council, Exeter City Council, North Devon and Mid Devon District
Councils). These focused on the following activities:

† Purchasing products, such as detergents, that have a reduced environmental impact;

† Avoiding products with aerosols;
† Purchasing recycled paper products (such as toilet tissue and writing paper);
† Buying organic produce;
† Buying locally produced foods;
486 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

† Purchasing from a local store;

† Buying fairly traded goods;
† Looking for products using less packaging;
† Using one’s own bag, rather than a plastic carrier provided by a shop.

The frequency results for the total sample (N 1265) were compared to those for
alternative behaviours by means of a factor analysis, in order to examine whether green
consumer behaviours were both related to each other and different activities. Factor
analysis is commonly used amongst social scientists in order to evaluate the empirical
links between large numbers of questionnaire items and to establish whether items in a
questionnaire represent an underlying theme or pattern. Table 1 provides the results of the
factor analysis.
Of the three distinct factors to emerge, only one (Purchase decisions) contains the
green consumer items. The other two factors relate either to habitual activities within
the home or recycling behaviour. However, the purchase decisions factor contains not
only green consumer items as one might expect by convention, but also items
pertaining to energy saving, waste management and also waster conservation.
Accordingly, if one accepts that the factor analysis provides an accurate representation
of the empirical relationships observed, there appears to be a wider behavioural
dimension to green purchasing than merely those activities which have conventionally
been classified as green consumption.
This has particular relevance with regard to the inclusion of energy saving behaviours
(looking for energy efficient appliances and light bulbs). It would appear that behaviours
that relate to a given form of consumption activity are related, which can cross into other
realms, such as energy conservation. This model evidently does not fit as well with the
two items relating to composting activities in the immediate sense. However, this
apparently habitual activity may be related more to consumptive behaviours by virtue not
of the activity itself, but rather the conscious purchase decision that might be required to
buy the materials for composting organic waste. This is different to the relatively
unconscious habitual activities in the habitual factor, relating to switching off lights or
These data have two significant implications for research on green consumerism and
sustainable lifestyles. First, they suggest that different forms of behaviour are linked such
that traditional boundaries relating to energy saving, water conservation and so on are
inappropriate in the study of sustainable lifestyles and that a more holistic approach is
required. Second, they provide evidence that green consumption encompasses even more
behaviours than even those mentioned by policy makers. Accordingly, given this finding,
it may be more appropriate to refer to such activities as either sustainable consumption
(referring as this can to purchases from a local shop, for example, which are not
intrinsically green) or sustainable purchasing.

4.2. Sustainable purchasing: who’s buying what?

Although there was a clearly definable ‘purchase decisions’ factor evident in the data,
this did not imply that everyone who undertook these activities did so with the same
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 487

Table 1
Factor solution for behavioural data

Factor Variables included Variance Per cent Cronbach’s

(eigenvalue) variance (%) alpha
Purchase High efficiency bulbs 4.4 13.3 0.83
decisions Energy efficient appliances
Buy organic
Buy fairtrade
Avoid aerosols
Compost garden waste
Compost kitchen waste
Avoid toxic detergents
Reuse glass
Reuse paper
Buy recycled writing paper
Buy recycled toilet paper
Buy locally produced foods
Buy from a local store
Use own bag when shopping
Less packaging
Use plants that need less water
Habits Turn off tap when soaping up 3.9 11.7 0.81
Reduce the number of baths/showers
Reduce toilet flushes
Turn tap off when cleaning teeth
Turn off tap when washing dishes
Reduce heat in unused rooms
Reduce hot water temperature
Keep heating low to save energy
Use a shower rather than bath
Wait until there’s a full load for washing
More clothes instead of more heating
Lights off in unused rooms
Use a sprinkler less in the garden
Recycling Recycle glass 3.5 10.5 0.78
Recycle newspaper
Recycle cans Recycle plastic bottles
Donate furniture to charity
Donate clothes to charity

Green consumer behaviours shown in bold type.

regularity. Fig. 2 provides data on the frequency with which individuals undertook each of
the behaviours within the purchase decisions factor. As can be seen, there was wide
variation between the particular activities, with the purchase of energy efficient light bulbs
being the most popular, whilst composting of kitchen waste was the least popular.
Nonetheless, despite these variations, there is one overriding pattern, which is defined by
the low levels of activity in almost all cases. For example, fewer than 5% of the sample
always purchased organic foods and fairly traded products. Although some 20%
sometimes did, almost 60% of the sample either rarely or never did. This is in the context
488 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

Fig. 2. Purchase decisions, Purchase decisions (item order relates to the order in the factor solution in Table 1),
EN1, Purchase high efficiency light bulbs; EN2, Purchase energy efficient items; GC1, Buy organic food; GC2,
Buy FairTrade goods; GC3, Do not purchase aerosols; W1, Compost garden waste; W2, Compost kitchen waste;
GC4, Purchase less harmful detergents; W3, Reuse glass; W4, Reuse paper; GC5, Buy recycled writing paper;
GC6, Buy recycled toilet tissue; GC7, Buy Local produce; GC8, Buy food from a local store; GC9, Use own bag
when shopping; GC10, Look for less packaging; WA1, Use plants that need less water.

of a range of supermarkets, most notably Iceland, promoting organics. Indeed, the Co-op
group has also been keen to promote fairly traded produce, such as tea, coffee, bananas and
chocolate. Even for the more widely available products, such as recycled toilet tissue, only
just over 10% reported always purchasing this. More individuals were engaged in
purchases of local produce and buying from local shops, although it is acknowledged that
both of these could indeed cover a range of (not necessarily sustainable) behaviours.
Whichever way one interprets the data, there is little doubt that sustainable consumption is
not on the minds of the majority of individuals.
In order to investigate whether there were differences between individuals in the sample
according to their consumption habits and to attempt to classify these lifestyles, a cluster
analysis of the data was undertaken. Cluster analysis is a technique that is used by social
scientists in order to classify individuals into a manageable set of groups. The procedure is
based on the premise that at the beginning of the analysis, all individuals in the sample can
be paired into clusters. Individuals are paired and paired again according to the similarity
of their scores on a range of items until there is only one cluster left. At some point that
seems appropriate, a given number of clusters are retained for analysis, This is usually
based on how the data have grouped together and is interpreted using a dendrogram.
In the case of the current research, four clusters were chosen. The behavioural qualities
of these four groups can be seen in Fig. 3. Compared to Fig. 2, there are significant
Committed environmentalists were the most enthusiastic group, who were the most likely
to always compost their waste and were far more likely to ‘usually’ undertake sustainable
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 489

purchase activities, especially the purchase of local produce and from buying a local store.
However, although this group were indeed more likely to buy organic produce and fairly
traded products, there were still a minority of individuals involved in these activities.
Mainstream environmentalists undertook the range of behaviours with the same
regularity on the whole as committed environmentalists, although they were considerably
less likely to compost their waste.

Fig. 3. Behavioural types, Please see Fig. 2 for explanation of labels, (a) Committed environmentalists (Group 1),
(b) Mainstream environmentalists (Group 2), (c) Occasional environmentalists (Group 3), (d) Non-
environmentalists (Group 4).
490 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

Fig. 3 (continued )

This is in contrast to occasional environmentalists who were more likely to either never
or rarely undertake sustainable purchasing behaviours. This was especially the case in
respect of buying organic or fairly traded produce, alongside local purchases.
However, non-environmentalists were the least active, with the majority of individuals
never undertaking almost all of the activities listed. These individuals were clearly not
inclined to undertake any of the behaviours in question.
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 491

These four groups represent clear behavioural boundaries that may assist policy makers
to more accurately focus policies that seek to promote green consumption. However, to do
this, they must appreciate the nature and characteristics of the individuals involved.

4.3. Who are the sustainable few?

4.3.1. Demographic profile of the four groups

Table 2 presents demographic information relating to the four groups and the whole
sample. Statistically significant differences between the clusters are indicated by a relevant
test statistic in the far right column. As can be seen from Fig. 3, the major differences
between purchase behaviour types appeared to focus around a definitive split between non-
environmentalists and other groups, with the qualification that there were notable changes
from the ‘committed’ to ‘occasional’ groupings, with lower frequencies in the latter
groups. Briefly, the demographic profile of the different groupings can be summarised as:

† The mean age of committed environmentalists is highest, with the mean age of non-
environmentalists being the lowest;
† There were significantly more males in the non-environmentalist cluster. The gender
balance remains relatively stable in the three remaining clusters;
† Committed and mainstream environmentalists tended to have smaller household sizes
than occasional or non-environmentalists. A significantly large number of households
in these latter groups had more than five individuals in the home;
† Car access fluctuated according to the cluster examined, although this was not
statistically significant;
† Committed environmentalists tended to own their home, whilst a greater proportion of
non-environmentalists were either private tenants or rented their home from a local
† Committed individuals tended to live in terraced properties, whilst mainstream
environmentalists were more likely to live in semi-detached homes;
† Non-environmentalists were on significantly lower incomes. This was the case for the
lowest income band of under 7500 a year. However, a significantly higher proportion of
committed environmentalists earned between 7500 and 10,000 pounds. The higher
income brackets were equally spread between groups;
† Committed environmentalists were less likely to have received any formal education,
but at the same time, were also more likely to have a degree. In the case of non-
environmentalists, a large proportion had received no formal education, with low levels
of GCSE, A-level and degree qualifications. Mainstream and occasional environmen-
talists tended to have GCSE qualifications;
† Non-environmentalists contained a large amount of Labour voters as well as a
significant proportion that did not vote. There were markedly fewer Liberal Democrat
voters amongst this group. Committed environmentalists were more likely to vote
Green and Liberal Democrat. They were also the most likely to vote. Mainstream and
occasional environmentalists represented what one might expect to be the national
situation, with Labour the dominant party of choice, followed by the Conservative’s
and Liberal Democrat’s;
492 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

Table 2
Demographic characteristics of behavioural clusters

Variable Sample Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3 Cluster 4 Test statistic and

Cluster Committed Mainstream Occasional Non-envir-
label environ- environ- environ- onment’l.
ment’l ment’l. ment’l.
No. in 294 412 505 43
Age 49 55 52 46 43 Kruskall-Wallis
(mean) HZ59.6
Gender Male 35% Male 35% Male 31% Male 38% Male 50% c2Z8.8
No. in 1 16% 1 17% 1 21% 1 13% 1 11% Chi-SquareZ25.9
home (all 2 37% 2 40% 2 40% 2 34% 2 29% (p!0.05)
residents) 3 18% 3 18% 3 15% 3 21% 3 26%
4 19% 4 17% 4 15% 4 22% 4 17%
5C3% 5C8% 5 9% 5 10% 5 17%
Car 0 20% 0 19% 0 24% 0 17% 0 27% Chi-SquareZ15.1
access 1 51% 1 51% 1 52% 1 52% 1 37% (pO0.05)
(number) 2 24% 2 25% 2 20% 2 26% 2 32%
3C5% 3C5% 3C4% 3C5% 3C4%
Tenancy Owned 74% Owned 83% Owned 74% Owned 71% Owned 62% Chi-SquareZ23.3
Private Private Private Private Private (p!0.05)
Tenant 11% Tenant 5% Tenant11% Tenant 13% Tenant 19%
LA 15% LA 12% LA 15% LA 16% LA 19%
House Detached Detached Det 12% Det 10% Det 10% Chi-SquareZ63.4
type 9% 4% (p!0.05)
S-Detached S-Detached S-Det 34% S-Det 24% S-Det 26%
24% 16%
Terrace w Terrace w Terr/p 7% Terr/p 10% Terr/p 14%
pass 9% pass 8%
Terrace 36% Terrace 43% Terr 28% Terr 38% Terr 36%
Flat 22% Flat 29% Flat 19% Flat 20% Flat 14%
Income !7.5 k 20% !7.5 k 20% !7.5 k 23% !7.5 k 15% !7.5 k 35% Chi-SquareZ29.9
(Pounds) 7.5–10 k 9% 7.5–10 k 7.5–10 k 7.5–10 k 8% 7.5–10 k 6% (p!0.05)
20% 10%
10–15 k 10–15 k 10–15 k 10–15 k 10–15 k 9%
17% 11% 20% 15%
15–20 k 15–20 k 15–20 k 15–20 k 15–20 k
19% 15% 18% 22% 12%
20–30 k 20–30 k 20–30 k 20–30 k 20–30 k
21% 19% 20% 23% 21%
O30 k 14% O30 k 15% O30 k 9% O30 k 17% O30 k 18%
Education None 38% None 51% None 41% None 35% None 53% Chi–SquareZ21.6
(formal) GCSE 27% GCSE 20% GCSE 30% GCSE 29% GCSE 19% (p!0.05)
‘A’ level ‘A’ level ‘A’ level ‘A’ level ‘A’ level
17% 18% 15% 18% 16%
Degree 17% Degree 21% Degree 14% Degree 18% Degree 12%

(continued on next page)

A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 493

Table 2 (continued)

Variable Sample Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3 Cluster 4 Test statistic and

Political Con 16% Con 16% Con 16% Con 15% Con 15% Chi–SquareZ43.3
allegiance Green 3% Green 6% Green 4% Green 2% Green 0% (p!0.05)
Lab 22% Lab 18% Lab 22% Lab 25% Lab 32%
LD 14% LD 17% LD 17% LD 12% LD 5%
Oth. 2% Oth. 2% Oth. 1% Oth. 2% Oth. 2%
No vote10% No vote 6% No vote No vote No vote
10% 12% 22%
Pass Q 33% Pass Q 35% Pass Q 30% Pass Q 32% Pass Q 24%
Member- Yes 11% Yes 17% Yes 10% Yes 8% Yes 8% Chi–SquareZ16.0
ship of a (p!0.05)
nity group

† Committed environmentalists were significantly more likely to be a member of a

community organisation, whilst occasional and non-environmentalists were least likely
to be.

Evidently there are more trends that can be described from the table, but for the
purposes of brevity it is interesting to note that those most committed to sustainable
consumption were older, tended to own their home, lived in a terraced property, voted
Green/Liberal Democrat and were members of community groups. In contrast, those who
were non-environmentalists tended to be younger, male, on low incomes, who had
received less formal education, were less involved in the community and were more likely
to be politically apathetic.
These assertions are clearly generalisations. However, they are based on discernible
statistical patterns. What must be noted is that there are not clear distinctions that can be
drawn along a continuum, from ‘committed’ to ‘non-environmentalist’. There are variable
demographic characteristics depending on which cluster one examines. Nonetheless, there
are clear trends that have significant implications for policy makers.

4.3.2. Social and environmental values

The review at the beginning of this paper examined the likelihood that those who were
more likely to engage in sustainable consumption would have more altruistic values, be
more open to change and be more likely to hold both biospheric and ecocentric
environmental values. Questions relating to these were posed in the questionnaire and
were factor analysed in the same way as the behavioural items.
For social values, Table 3 reveals that four factors emerged, relating to altruism,
openness to change, conservative values and egoism. Fig. 4 shows the scores for each
cluster according to the item in each factor. A test statistic (Mood’s median test) is
provided for each factor to signify whether there was any statistically significant difference
between the scores between each group. Although for the altruistic and openness to change
grouping there appeared to be no statistical difference between the clusters, a general
494 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

Table 3
Social value factors

Factor Variables included Variance (eigenvalue) Per cent variance

Altruistic Loyalty 3.1 20
Honouring parents
Social justice
Enjoying life
Openness to change Varied life 2.5 16
Exciting life
Conservative Social order 2.1 13
Egoism Wealth 1.8 11
Social Power
Total variance 59

Individuals were asked how important each value was to their own life, rating each from 1 (very unimportant) to 5
(very important).

pattern emerges relating to apparent differences between clusters 1–3 and cluster 4. For
example, those in cluster 4 (non-environmentalists) were least likely to regard being
helpful as an important principle in their lives. However, it is with regard to the
conservative and egoism factors that substantive differences are observed. Committed
environmentalists were the most likely to feel that unity was important, along with
obedience, alongside placing little emphasis on wealth and personal influence.
With regard to environmental values, Table 4 shows the factorial structure of the three
factors that emerged, conforming to well-known concepts. Fig. 5 provides data on each of the
factors and the scores for each group. Non-environmentalists in this case were the most likely
to believe that there were no limits to growth for the UK and that humankind was created to
rule over nature. Indeed, they were least likely to believe that the balance of nature is delicate,
that the Earth was like a spaceship, or that plants and animals were not solely for human use.
These findings are significant, as they show that those individuals who are less involved
in sustainable purchasing behaviours share significantly different values to those who are
more heavily involved. These range over both social and environmental values and a
variety of these in turn. Clearly, the environmentalist is less concerned with material
wealth and personal influence, alongside holding values that place nature in an equal
position with humans and believing that nature has critical limits which must not be
crossed by human developments.

4.3.3. Psychological variables

Given the nature of the research, a wide range of variables were measured, some of
which are not relevant to sustainable consumption. As before, these were factor analysed
to provide a smaller set of variables with which to work. Four of the factors that emerged
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 495

contained variables that have previously been found to influence green consumer
behaviour. These related to response efficacy or perceived consumer effectiveness, the
influence of responsibility, the effect of price sensitivity, and health and safety concerns.
As for environmental and social values above, the individual scores for each variable are
given for every one of the four behavioural groups.
Fig. 6a provides data relating to the outcome beliefs and response efficacy of the sample.
It is immediately apparent that there is a discernible trend in the data, with committed

Fig. 4. Group properties for social values, Figures on the X-axis refer to cluster membership (Fig. 3), Mood’s
Median statistic computed for each factor, denoting whether there was a statistically significant difference
between the four cluster groups. (a) Altruistic (MZ5.8; pO0.05), (b) Openness to change (MZ2.6; pO0.05), (c)
Conservative MZ7.8;p!0.05), (d) Egoistic (MZ9.8; p!0.05).
496 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

Fig. 4 (continued )

environmentalists the most likely to believe that environmental actions will have a positive
outcome, whereas non-environmentalists are significantly less likely to have faith in their
actions. This conclusion should be qualified by noting that although statistically there was a
significant difference between the four groups, the majority in all cases agreed that their
actions would be effective. This is encouraging, but also highlights the difficulties policy
makers face in engaging citizens in participation, given that even individuals who are the
least committed report fairly high levels of perceived consumer effectiveness.
Fig. 6b provides evidence for a more discernible difference between committed
environmentalists and non-environmentalists. Whereas 90% of committed environmen-
talists rejected the idea that environmental problems were the government’s responsibility,
only 43% of non-environmentalists agreed with this notion. This is significant, since
previous research into green consumption has made explicit the links between
personalisation of responsibility and effective environmental action. These data therefore
support this assertion. Differences may also be seen with regard to the trust that individuals
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 497

Table 4
Environmental value factors

Factor Variables included Label (Fig. 5) Variance Per cent

(eigenvalue) variance
Faith in growth: There are no limits to growth No limits to 2.3 24
anthropocentrism for nations like the UK growth
Modifying the environment Modifying
seldom causes serious environment
Science will help us to live Scientific solution
without conservation
Humans were created to rule Humans over
over nature nature
Spaceship Earth: The balance of nature is Balance of nature 2.2 22
biospherism delicate and easily upset
The Earth is like a space ship, Spaceship earth
with limited room and
Plants and animals do not exist Value of nature
primarily for human use
One of the most important Preservation
reasons for conservation is to
preserve wild areas
Ecocentism-tech- Technology will solve many Technological 1.2 12
nocentrism environmental problems solutions
Exploitation of resources Stop exploitation
should be stopped
Total variance 58

Individuals were asked to rate their agreement with each statement from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly

placed in the different sources of information provided. Whilst three of the four groups
believed that environmental groups provided trustworthy information, more than twice the
number of non-environmentalists stated that they disagreed with this. This might point to a
link between the level of trust in specific information providers and the efficacy of the
arguments in changing behaviours, which that organisation promotes.
The impact of price on sustainable consumption can be seen in Fig. 6c, where it is clear
that committed environmentalists were more likely to purchase products on their
environmental credentials, with price being less of a factor in the purchase decision. In this
case, the trend is almost uniform between the four groups, with attitudes changing
incrementally from committed to non-environmentalist groups. Such data indicate the
different perceptions of price that impact on personal attitudes towards purchasing in a
sustainable way.
Finally, Fig. 6d provides data relating to green consumer beliefs. In this case, the difference
between the committed and non-environmentalist groups are distinctly uniform, with
committed environmentalists stating that health issues, safety concerns, buying locally and
believing that green consumption helped the environment all scoring over 70% agreement.
Non-environmentalists were the least concerned with these issues, with under 40% stating that
498 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

they felt buying locally was important and only 49% agreeing that green consumption helped
the environment, compared to 83% of committed environmentalists. These data therefore
clearly demonstrate the impact of health and safety concerns in purchase decisions made by
individuals who choose to participate in sustainable consumption.

5. Discussion

The data presented in this paper provide compelling evidence to support the assertion
that green consumption may be more appropriately termed sustainable consumption or

Fig. 5. Environmental Values (please see Table 4 for statement wording) Figures on the X-axis refer to cluster
membership (Fig. 3) (a) Faith in Growth (MZ12.6; p!0.05)), (b) Spaceship Earth (MZ10.2; p!0.05), (c)
Ecocentrism-technocentrism (MZ3.9; pO0.05).
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 499

Fig. 5 (continued)

a component of any move towards sustainable lifestyles. Incorporating issues

conventionally conceived as green consumer actions within a framework of environmental
action has demonstrated how sustainable consumption is likely to be a component of a
wider shift in lifestyles that invokes both purchase-related and habitual behaviours in an
holistic conceptualisation of everyday living. This is manifested within distinctive
behavioural groups that have their own social, attitudinal and behavioural qualities,
ranging from committed environmentalists, who partake in a considerable variety of
environmental actions, to non-environmentalists who generally never participate in such
behaviours. In regard to the specific qualities of the different groups, reference can be
made to existing research in this field.

5.1. Social and environmental values

The evidence provided in this research supports the work of Stern et al. [28], Roberts
[19] and Chan [2] in their assertions that green consumers tend to hold more pro-
environmental and pro-social values. The data in Figs. 3 and 4 clearly demonstrate that
committed environmentalists valued wealth, personal influence and power less than unity
and other aspects of altruism. In contrast, non-environmentalists scored the lowest on these
measures. Indeed, committed environmentalists were more likely to hold biospheric
and ecocentric values, emphasising equality with nature and a need to work with the
environment, rather than relying on technological solutions. Such data provide a good
basis on which to argue that sustainable lifestyles may be formulated around a distinctive
pro-social ethic, which is open to change and values nature intrinsically. From the
perspective of policy, this may provide certain difficulties, since values are not easily
manipulated by conventional policy measures, as perhaps attitudes can be.
500 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

Fig. 6. Selected social-psychological factors, Figures on the X-axis refer to cluster membership (Fig. 3), (a)
Outcome beliefs (MZ45.1; p!0.05), Good economics, It makes good economic sense to help the environment,
NZ1245; Energy beliefs, Energy saving in the home helps reduce global warming, NZ1242; Response efficacy,
Each person’s behaviour can have a positive effect on society and the environment, NZ1245; Waste beliefs,
Reducing household waste and recycling saves rubbish being buried in landfill, NZ1241; (b) Trust and
responsibility (MZ12.3; p!0.05). Government responsibility, Environmental problems are the government’s
responsibility*, NZ1234; Trust in information, The information I receive about environmental issues is
trustworthy, NZ1233; Environmental group information, Environmental groups provide the most accurate
information about the environment, NZ1241; (c) Price (MZ32.5; p!0.05), Price of eco-friendly products,
Unless environmentally-friendly products come down in price, I will buy normal brands*, NZ1235; Importance
of nature, The price is uppermost in my mind when I buy products*, NZ1241; Prefer eco-friendly produce, I’d
rather buy environmentally-friendly products than purchase cheaper alternatives, NZ1238; Willing to pay more,
Paying higher prices for environmentally-friendly products is worth the extra cost, NZ1241; (d) Green consumer
beliefs (MZ84.9; p!0./05); Health concerns, The health benefits of certain foods are a key priority when I go
shopping, NZ1241; Safety concerns, Food safety is important when I go shopping, NZ1239; Importance of local
produce, Buying local produce is very important, NZ1238; Green consumer beliefs, Buying green produce helps
the environment, NZ1241; For all items marked * the raw scores (measured on a scale of 1Zstrongly disagree to
5Zstrongly agree) were reverse coded so that in all cases agreement/strong agreement reflects a pro-
environmental position; Mood’s Median test was used to examine any statistically significant differences between
the cluster groups.
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 501

Fig. 6 (continued)

5.2. Socio-demographics

Some of the conclusions reached by workers in this field can be substantiated from this
research. Roberts’ [20]) finding that age had a positive impact on green consumption is
supported by the evidence in Table 2, where there was a difference of 12 years in the mean
age of committed and non-environmentalists. Such a finding may support Hallin’s [9]
hypothesis that older age groups are more likely to save and ‘make do’, given that they are
from the Second World War generation. Nonetheless, the incorporation of other variables,
such as fairly traded goods and recycled products may hint at another hypothesis that is as
yet poorly understood.
Although gender does not show significant differences except for the non-
environmentalist group, this finding is significant, as it supports Roberts’ [20] assertion
502 A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504

of some gender imbalance. The male dominance (relatively) of this group supports
evidence from other environmental behaviour research (e.g. Barr et al. [1]; Hines et al.
[10]) that males may be less environmentally active. This may relate to Eagly’s [6] theory
of gender role expectations in which males and females seek to aspire to commonly
perceived gender roles and would have to be placed in the context of the division of labour
in households relating to the consumption of certain goods.
Olli et al.’s [17] thesis relating to the effect of income is partly substantiated by this
paper, in which a large proportion of committed environmentalists earned between 7.5 and
10 thousand Pounds. However, a larger proportion of non-environmentalists earned under
7.5 thousand Pounds. Such a position is difficult to interpret and does not appear to fall
within conventional thinking on environmental action (Hines et al. [10] that relates to a
general trend for higher income earning individuals to be more environmentally
Finally, in regard to political attitudes, this research supports Dunlap’s [3] initial
assertion that liberal individuals were more likely to support environmentalism. More
Green and Liberal Democrat voters were committed environmentalists. However, more
concerning is the level of political apathy that non-environmentalists demonstrated, with a
larger proportion not voting.
A further finding that has not been reported in the literature includes the high proportion
of owner-occupiers in the committed environmentalists group and the high amount of non-
environmentalists in the renting/local authority sector.
From the perspective of policy, these results are important, as they may be able to
provide a means by which to focus specific measures to encourage sustainable living.
These might be demographically based, with emphasis being placed on younger
individuals, such as males. They may also be spatially distributed, focusing on individuals
in certain areas with high levels of renting/local authority tenancy.

5.3. Psychological factors

The literature reviewed above concerning perceived consumer effectiveness,

responsibility, price and health and safety issues can all be substantiated in this paper.
This is not to state that other factors might be significant in differentiating between the four
behavioural groups, but rather that there is strong evidence to support previous evidence.
Consumers are likely to purchase in a more sustainable way if they perceive that what they
are buying, be that organic food or fairly traded coffee, is actually going to impact on the
environment and influence future policy. Similarly, personalisation of environmental
issues and a trust in the information provided on the environment is also more likely to
engage citizens. The priorities that are given to various purchases are also likely to be
significant, relating to trade-offs pertaining to price, health, safety, buying locally and
helping the environment.
These findings suggest that policy makers need to market products specifically at
particular market segments, so as to emphasise how a particular product will have a
tangible effect, be that on the natural environment, a developing nation’s economy or the
local farmer. This information needs to be clear, scientifically presented and ‘believable’.
Indeed, where price is an issue, other credentials of the products should be emphasised,
A. Gilg et al. / Futures 37 (2005) 481–504 503

such as the health and safety benefits, be that for organic produce or locally produced

6. Conclusion

Any move to sustainability and sustainable lifestyles will be a gradual process, but must
be seen in the context of an holistic move towards new lifestyles, incorporating purchase-
related and habitual elements that cross conventional behavioural boundaries. The
challenges for policy makers wishing to engage in this move relate to both a realigning of
the language of consumption, away from ‘green’ and towards ‘sustainable’, so as to
incorporate activities that do not necessarily have green credentials, but also a greater
focus on who does what. This research has clearly shown that specific demographic
groups, with particular behavioural qualities and attitudes, are engaging in a varied way in
sustainability. If policy makers can use this approach, which can be utilised to target
specific groups, then the move to sustainable lifestyles will be achieved with greater


The authors would like to thanks the Economic and Social Research Council for
financial assistance in undertaking this research (Grant No. R000239417).


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