Sustainable Consumption and Life Satisfaction
Jing Jian Xiao
Accepted: 17 October 2010 / Published online: 27 October 2010
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract The purpose of this study was to examine the association between sustainable
consumption and life satisfaction. One aspect of sustainable consumption focused on in
this study is the environment friendly purchase or green purchase. Using data collected
from consumers in 14 cities in China, we found that consumers who reported green
purchase intention and behavior had higher scores in life satisfaction compared to other
consumers after controlling for gender, age, education, and family income. The ﬁndings
add evidence to the literature that suggests happiness is associated with prosocial spending
(Dunn et al., Science 319:1687–1688 in 2008).
Keywords Sustainable consumption Green purchase Prosocial spending
Life satisfaction Subjective well-being China
Can money buy happiness? The literature of happiness research says yes, to some degree.
Happiness is usually labeled as subjective well-being in the literature (Diener 1984).
Previous research indicates that subjective well-being is positively associated with income,
especially among low and middle income populations (Diener and Biswas-Diener 2002).
Research also shows that consumption is positively associated with subjective well-being
(Heady et al. 2008). In addition, recent research indicates that prosocial spending; such as,
charity donation, contributes to life satisfaction, a common measure of subjective well-
being (Dunn et al. 2008). In this study, we investigated the potential effect of another
prosocial spending, spending for environment friendly products or green purchase, on life
J. J. Xiao (&)
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Rhode Island,
Kingston, RI, USA
Faculty of Economics, Yamaguchi University, Yamaguchi, Japan
Soc Indic Res (2011) 104:323–329
satisfaction, using data collected in 14 cities in China. The study contributes to the liter-
ature of subjective well-being and sustainable consumption and has implications for policy
makers and educators to promote environmental protection and quality of life.
2 Previous Research and Hypothesis
The deﬁnition of subjective well-being (SWB) is a broad, multi-faceted domain, which
includes both affective and cognitive components (Diener 1984; Sirgy et al. 2006).
According to Diener et al. (1999), ‘‘… subjective well-being is a broad category of phe-
nomena that includes people’s emotional responses, domain satisfactions, and global
judgments of life satisfaction’’ (p. 277). In the last three decades, research on subjective
well-being has exploded. Researchers studied the causes and outcomes of SWB from
diverse perspectives (Sirgy et al. 2006). Relevant to the current study are two lines of
research on SWB, the relationship between SWB and money and the role of behavior on
The relationship between subjective well-being and money is complicated and depends
on contexts and circumstances of the situation. According to a comprehensive review
(Diener and Biswas-Diener 2002), income was positively associated with SWB within
nations and between nations. Within nations, positive associations between income and
SWB were more obvious among low and middle income populations. However, economic
growth measured by per capita GDP was not associated with SWB and pursuing a
materialistic goal was detrimental to SWB. In addition to income, nondurable consumption
was found to be an important factor associated with SWB (Heady et al. 2008). Results from
Peru revealed that consumption had a meaning beyond mere basic needs satisfaction. Other
factors including status concerns, the reference group, and the pleasure of consuming
signiﬁcantly predicted people’s happiness (Guillen-Royo 2008).
Another line of research on SWB attempts to identify broad categories of factors
associated with SWB. Lynbomirsky et al. (2005) reviewed the literature of happiness
research and summarized three broad factors that inﬂuence happiness: (a) set points (50%),
(b) circumstances (10%), and (c) intentional activity (40%). They stressed the importance
of intentional activity and argued that to develop effective interventions to improve the
happiness level, intentional activity or behavior is an important factor to consider. Their
own research provided evidence for this argument. Other research on behavior and hap-
piness supports this argument. For example, a study of college students showed that
positive ﬁnancial behaviors contributed to ﬁnancial satisfaction and life satisfaction (Xiao
et al. 2009).
Another study examined the relationship between prosocial spending behavior and life
satisfaction and found that spending on others contributed to life satisfaction (Dunn et al.
2008). The researchers developed their research idea based on ﬁndings of the above two
lines of research and also on a common ﬁnding in the SWB literature in which social
relationship was positively associated with SWB. If the argument is true that prosocial
spending behavior generates more life satisfaction, it should be shown in other prosocial
behaviors. In this study, we focused on one of such prosocial behaviors relevant to sus-
tainable consumption. A broad and widely-used deﬁnition of sustainable consumption was
developed in 1994 at the Oslo Symposium sponsored by the United Nations, which states,
sustainable consumption is ‘‘… the use of goods and services that respond to basic needs
and bring a better quality of life, while minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic
materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardize
324 J. J. Xiao, H. Li
the needs of future generations.’’ (Oslo roundtable 1994). This deﬁnition is broad and rich
with multiple meanings for multiple sectors of society. First, it refers to activities by both
production units and individual consumers. Second, it concerns environmental protection
and resource utilization equally. Third, it seeks a balance between well-being of current
and future consumer populations. International comparative research indicates that citizens
in wealthier nations express greater concern for the global condition of the environment
than those in poorer countries (Franzen 2003). Environmental attitudes may also be
associated with individual income and education, according to a study conducted in South
Africa (Struwig 2010).
In this study, we focused on one aspect of sustainable consumption, environment
friendly purchase or green purchase. Previous research suggests environment friendly
behavior may be associated with subjective well-being. A study of ecological sustainability
found that ecologically sustainable behavior independently explained statistically signiﬁ-
cant amounts of variance in subjective well-being (Jacob et al. 2009). Another research
study based on two samples (an adolescent and an adult one) reported results that indi-
viduals higher in subjective well-being reported more ecologically responsible behavior
(Brown and Kasser 2005). We propose the following hypothesis:
Consumers who tend to purchase environment friendly products should score higher
in life satisfaction than consumers who do not.
Data were collected in 14 cities in China during 2004 and 2006. These cities are Beijing,
Chengde, Chongqing, Fuxin, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Kaili, Luanping, Shanghai, Shenyang,
Shijiazhuang, Suozhou, Tianjin, and Wuhan, which include both large and small cities
from all regions in China. Data collections were conducted by government statistical
bureaus in the surveyed cities. The survey language was Chinese. The total sample size
was 3,372. In this study, after removing observations with missing values in the focused
variables, the number of observations used was 3,221.
3.2.1 Life Satisfaction
One item was used to measure life satisfaction with the wording ‘‘Are you satisﬁed with
your life: 1—very satisﬁed, 2—satisﬁed, 3—neither satisﬁed nor unsatisﬁed, 4—unsatis-
ﬁed, 5—very unsatisﬁed.’’ The value was reverse coded in data analyses.
3.2.2 Green Lifestyle Intention
Three variables were used to measure tendency of green purchase. One item was used to
measure green consumption lifestyle with the wording ‘‘In developed countries, the pop-
ularity of cars resulted in serious air pollution and high consumption caused trash disposal
as a major socioeconomic issue. Then what lifestyle should we adopt: 1—to avoid envi-
ronment pollution, do not adopt the lifestyle of high consumption, 2—no matter what
Sustainable Consumption and Life Satisfaction 325
environment pollution would be, if having money, want to buy cars and live a life of high
consumption.’’ In data analyses, 2 was recoded as 0.
3.2.3 Green Purchase Intention
This variable was measured with one item with the wording: ‘‘‘Green products’ are
expensive, non green products are less expensive, usually which do you choose:
1—Choose ‘green products’ even they are expensive, 2—Choose those less expensive and
don’t care if they are green or not.’’ In data analyses, 2 was recoded as 0.
3.2.4 Green Purchase Behavior
This variable was measured with one item with the wording ‘‘Purchase green products,
1—always, 2—sometimes, 3—never.’’ In data analyses, the variable was recoded as
‘‘2—always, 1—sometimes, 0—never’’.
3.2.5 Demographic Variables
Four demographic variables were used as control variables, gender, age, education and
family income. In data analyses, male was coded as 1 and female as 0. Age had 10
categories, 1—younger than 20, 2—20 to 24,…, 9—55 to 59, 10—60 or older. Education
had 6 categories, 1—elementary school, 2—middle school, 3—high school, 4—vocational
school, 5—college, 6—graduate school. Annual family income had 16 categories, 1—less
than 10,000 yuan, 2—10,000 to 12,000 yuan,…, 15—36,000 to 38,000 yuan, 16—more
Both bivariate and multivariate analyses were used to examine associations between green
purchase variables and the life satisfaction variable. Figure 1 presents results of ANOVA.
Consumers who indicated green purchase intention and green purchase behavior scored
higher in life satisfaction than those who did not. Consumers who said they intend to
purchase more expensive green products scored 3.49 on a scale of life satisfaction ranged
Fig. 1 ANOVA results
326 J. J. Xiao, H. Li
from 1 to 5 compared to 3.10, the mean score of those who intended to purchase less
expensive, non green products (F = 121.77, p \ 0.0001).
Consumers who reported always buying green products scored 3.53, and those some-
times buying green products scored 3.23 compared with 3.05, the mean score of life
satisfaction of those who never buy green products. However, green lifestyle intention did
not show differences in life satisfaction.
Two sets of linear regression models were used to examine associations between green
consumption variables and life satisfaction (Table 1). The ﬁrst model used only three green
consumption variables as independent variables, and the second model used additional
demographic variables as control variables. Both models showed that green purchase
intention and green purchase behavior were positively associated with life satisfaction. It
seems that the intention variable has greater potential effects on life satisfaction than the
behavior variable. In model 1 without the control variables, the intention’s coefﬁcient
estimate was about two times larger than that of the behavior variable. In model 2 after the
control variables were used, the intention’s estimate was about triple that of the behavior
variable. In addition, education and income showed positive associations with life
This study examined the relationship between green purchase and life satisfaction using
data collected from 14 cities in China. The ﬁndings indicate that consumers who intend to
purchase environment friendly products and report having done so score higher on life
satisfaction than other consumers after controlling several demographic factors; such as,
gender, age, education, and family income. The ﬁndings add evidence to the literature
suggesting prosocial spending behavior contributes to life satisfaction (Dunn et al. 2008).
Because of the limitation of the cross-section data used in this study, this study only
documents associations between green purchase behavior and life satisfaction. Whether or
not this is a causal relationship needs more research. In addition, the theoretical
Table 1 Results of regressions on life satisfaction (N = 3,221)
Variable Model 1 Model 2
Pr [ |t| Parameter
Pr [ |t|
Intercept 2.96443 \.0001 2.61855 \.0001
Green lifestyle intention -0.0017 0.9639 0.0573 0.1211
Green purchase intention 0.2976 \.0001 0.2652 \0.0001
Green purchase behavior 0.1538 \.0001 0.1029 0.0005
Male (vs. female) -0.0054 0.8767
Age 0.0049 0.4972
Education 0.0348 0.0002
Family income 0.0442 \0.0001
F 48.47 51.41
p \.0001 \.0001
Sustainable Consumption and Life Satisfaction 327
explanations between prosocial spending behavior and life satisfaction are unclear and also
need future research.
In spite of the limitation of the study, the ﬁndings are still helpful for policy makers and
educators when they promote sustainable consumption behaviors to consumers. Choosing
to purchase more expensive but greener products indicates sacriﬁcing personal interests for
collective beneﬁts and short-term losses for long-term gains, which should be praised and
promoted. Because of emerging threats to human beings caused by environmental pollu-
tion and resource waste, green purchases should be encouraged and promoted. These
purchases not only contribute to the welfare of society but also increase life satisfaction at
the individual level as suggested by the ﬁndings of this study. Findings reported in this
study would help policy makers and educators better understand human behavior when
they make comprehensive social, economic and environmental indicators to measure
positive social changes (Michalos 1997).
The ﬁndings have special implications for Chinese consumers. Because of the economic
reform in the last 30 decades, the Chinese economy has developed rapidly, and China is
entering a mass consumption society (Li 2004). Chinese consumers, especially those in
urban areas, are starting to enjoy the lifestyle of their counterparts in developed countries.
However, some evidence indicates that rapid economic growth does not increase life
satisfaction of Chinese consumers (Kahneman and Krueger 2006). In addition, environ-
mental protection and resource reservation are growing challenges faced by all sectors of
China (Xiao and Ying 2008). Encouraging Chinese consumers to engage in sustainable
consumption not only contributes to the welfare of China but also to the world, and not
only to societal well-being but also to individual life satisfaction.
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