The attitude-behaviour gap in sustainable consumer behaviour: a study of generations Y and Z

Sherrington, Anna Maria orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3950-4022 (2023) The attitude-behaviour gap in sustainable consumer behaviour: a study of generations Y and Z. In: 10th International Conference on Social Responsibility, Ethics and Sustainable Business, 14th-15th September 2023, Bucharest University of Economic Studies.

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Environmental pollution and the climate crisis present fundamental challenges to the very existence of our planet. Additionally, the economic crisis that hit in 2008 and the Corona virus pandemic of 2020, both with global social and economic implications, have presented many challenges for people. In recognition of the climate crisis, many consumers express a commitment to sustainable consumption, but without this always being reflected in their subsequent purchase behaviour. This circumstance has been referred to as the attitude-behaviour gap (Carrigan and Attalla, 2001), or the green gap, and is the focus of this paper. Academic research attempts to understand the causes for the gap are ongoing, but there are now calls for insight into how the gap may be closed.

The paper explores the attitude-behaviour gap in the context of young consumers. Using the theory of generational cohorts (Howe and Strauss, 2007), the study investigates Generation Z (Millennials) and Generation Y, the latter frequently referred to as the ‘Sustainability Generation’ (Petro, 2021). Consumer research has repeatedly characterised young consumers as particularly committed to sustainability, yet their purchase practices commonly show a mismatch between their attitudes and purchase behaviour.

The paper reports on original research conducted with young Swedish consumers. Taking an interpretivist perspective, the researcher asked members of Generation Z and Generation Y to write blog posts exploring why their consumer choices may not always be green and what is needed to empower them to close the green gap. The blog posts were analysed using thematic analysis. Findings are likely to be of interest to brands committed to sustainability, policy makers and an academic audience. The research uses a small sample and forms recommendations for more extensive future research.

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