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The aim of this study is to explore the effects of gender and salient identity on sustainable consumption. In particular, this research investigates how gender effects on sustainable consumption may be contingent to the identity that is salient to the consumer during the evaluation process (personal vs. social). According to identity-based motivation theory, the salience of personal identity means that people temporarily think about themselves as individuals, whereas social identity salience means that people see themselves as part of a group. The results from an experimental study indicated that when personal identity was salient, female participants declared higher levels of sustainable consumption compared with male participants. However, when social identity was salient, male participants increased their sustainable consumption intentions to the same level as female participants. Finally, this research discusses the theoretical and managerial implications on identities, gender and sustainable consumption.
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Going green for self or for others? Gender and identity
salience effects on sustainable consumption
Diego Costa Pinto
1,3
, Márcia M. Herter
2
, Patricia Rossi
2
and Adilson Borges
2
1
ESPM Business School, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
2
Behavioral Sciences Research Center, Neoma Business School, Reims, France
3
Unilasalle, Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Keywords
Gender, identity-based motivation, personal
and social identities, sustainable
consumption.
Correspondence
Diego Costa Pinto, ESPM Business School,
Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
E-mail: diegocostapinto@yahoo.com.br
doi: 10.1111/ijcs.12114
Abstract
The aim of this study is to explore the effects of gender and salient identity on sustainable
consumption. In particular, this research investigates how gender effects on sustainable
consumption may be contingent to the identity that is salient to the consumer during the
evaluation process (personal vs. social). According to identity-based motivation theory, the
salience of personal identity means that people temporarily think about themselves as
individuals, whereas social identity salience means that people see themselves as part of a
group. The results from an experimental study indicated that when personal identity was
salient, female participants declared higher levels of sustainable consumption compared
with male participants. However, when social identity was salient, male participants
increased their sustainable consumption intentions to the same level as female participants.
Finally, this research discusses the theoretical and managerial implications on identities,
gender and sustainable consumption.
Introduction
Sustainable consumption is a major concern for societies and
businesses nowadays. Sustainable consumption is the purchase
and use of products with lower environmental impacts, such as
biodegradable products, recycled or reduced packaging, and low
energy usage (Follows and Jobber, 2000; Pedersen, 2000; Horne,
2009; Krause, 2009; Gordon et al., 2011; Muster, 2012). On one
side, public policy campaigns (e.g. ‘Recycle for London’) are
including sustainable consumption in people’s everyday life
(Recycle Now Partners, 2013). On the other side, companies are
leveraging this sustainable consumption trend, developing envi-
ronmentally friendly products for consumers (Peattie and Charter,
1992).
In the academic field, studies have investigated the effects of
gender on sustainable consumption (e.g. Roberts, 1996a). In
general, research suggests that women are more willing than men
to engage in sustainable consumption behaviours (Roberts, 1996a;
Straughan and Roberts, 1999; Lindeman and Verkasalo, 2005).
For instance, women are more willing to buy an eco-car (i.e. an
environmentally friendly product) than men (Leelakulthanit and
Hongcharu, 2012). In this context, this research tackles the fol-
lowing question: How to reduce gender effects on sustainable
consumption?
Identity-based motivation theory (IBM theory Oyserman,
2009) offers insights for this question, showing that people engage
in particular actions in congruence with their salient identity
(i.e. personal or social identity). According to the identity-based
motivation, the salience of personal identity means that people
temporarily think about themselves as individuals, whereas social
identity salience means that people see themselves as part of a
group. For instance, research shows that consumers in group or
social contexts (social identity salience) are more likely to engage
in sustainable consumption behaviours than consumers in private
contexts (personal identity salience) (Griskevicius et al., 2010).
The aim of this study is to explore the effects of gender and
salient identity on sustainable consumption. In particular, this
research investigates how the effects of gender on sustainable
consumption may be contingent to the identity that is salient to the
consumer during the evaluation process (personal vs. social). Past
research showed that personal identity increases the salience of a
person’s own values (Oyserman, 2009). In general, research has
indicated that women tend to have higher levels of self-
transcendence values (i.e. motivated to promote the welfare of
others, transcending selfish concerns) than men (Schwartz, 1992;
Lindeman and Verkasalo, 2005; Schwartz and Rubel, 2005;
Fukukawa et al., 2007). Research has also indicated that men tend
to attach more importance to self-enhancement values (i.e. moti-
vated to enhance their own personal interests) than women
(Schwartz, 1992; Schwartz and Rubel, 2005; Lan et al., 2009).
Research has also suggested that self-transcendent individuals are
more willing to engage in sustainable consumption than self-
enhancement individuals are (e.g. Stern and Dietz, 1994; Stern
et al., 1995; Karp, 1996; Follows and Jobber, 2000; Schultz, 2001;
Doran, 2009, 2010; Verain et al., 2012). Thus, this research pro-
poses that when personal identity is salient, female participants are
more likely to engage in sustainable consumption than male par-
ticipants, acting in accordance with their own personal values.
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© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
1
However, because social (vs. personal) identity makes people
behave in accordance with social norms (Griskevicius et al.,
2010), this research proposes that when social identity is salient,
men’s sustainable consumption levels are as high as those dis-
played by female participants. For male participants, sustainable
consumption is an opportunity to reinforce their social image,
showing to others that they care about the environment. For female
participants, sustainable consumption tend to be intrinsically
important, independently of the salience of personal or social
identity (Schwartz, 1992; Lindeman and Verkasalo, 2005;
Schwartz and Rubel, 2005; Fukukawa et al., 2007).
By doing so, the present research aims to contribute to three
main areas of theory and practice. Firstly, this research intends to
extend previous knowledge on gender and sustainable consump-
tion (e.g. Roberts, 1996a), showing that consumers’ salient iden-
tity (personal vs. social) can change the effects of gender on
sustainable consumption. Secondly, this research aims to extend
previous findings on identity-based motivation (Oyserman, 2009),
providing further evidence of the impact of identities on sustain-
able consumption. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this
approach of examining gender and identity effects is unique in the
context of sustainable consumption. Finally, this research pro-
poses managerial implications regarding how societies and busi-
nesses can increase sustainable consumption.
Sustainable consumption
Recently, societies have become more concerned about environ-
ment protection (e.g. Corraliza and Berenguer, 2000). As a result,
many consumers are modifying their consumption practices,
choosing products with reduced environmental impacts (Schaefer
and Crane, 2005). Sustainable consumption, in this study, refers to
the purchase and use of products with lower environmental
impacts (Follows and Jobber, 2000; Pedersen, 2000; Gordon et al.,
2011) and that result in pro-social behaviours (Pedersen, 2000).
Despite the increasing concerns with environmental issues, con-
sumers will not necessarily change their behaviour to engage in
sustainable consumption (e.g. Pickett-Baker and Ozaki, 2008;
Banyte˙ et al., 2010). Persuading consumers to behave in a more
sustainable way is difficult, since sustainable consumption usually
benefits society in general and not necessarily the consumer as an
individual (Kronrod et al., 2012). In addition, the costs and sacri-
fices involved in sustainable consumption (e.g. using less, giving
up material comfort or living in a simpler way) are personal and
can reduce motivation to engage in sustainable behaviours.
Research on sustainable consumption has focused primarily on
identifying the consumer’s profile (e.g. Roberts, 1990; D’Souza
et al., 2007; Mostafa, 2007; Banyte˙ et al., 2010; Pinto et al.,
2011). According to past research, sustainable consumers are
mainly female, aged between 30 and 44 years old, well educated,
in a household with a high annual income (e.g. D’Souza et al.,
2007; Banyte˙ et al., 2010). Extant research on sustainable behav-
iour suggested that motives for conservation maybe related to
status and search for reputation (Bateson et al., 2006; Van Vugt,
2009; Griskevicius et al., 2010).
Furthermore, sustainable consumers can also be identified
through their psychographic characteristics such as personal
values and lifestyles (e.g. Stern and Dietz, 1994; Pepper et al.,
2009; Banyte˙ et al., 2010; Pinto et al., 2011; Ma and Lee, 2012;
Verain et al., 2012). These studies verified the positive relationship
between self-transcendence values (Schwartz, 1992) and attitudes
and behaviours towards sustainable consumption (e.g. Karp, 1996;
Schultz and Zelezny, 1998; Doran, 2009, 2010; Pepper et al.,
2009; Ma and Lee, 2012).
Gender and sustainable consumption
Gender has an important impact on how people think and behave
(e.g. Putrevu, 2001; Lindeman and Verkasalo, 2005). Because of
biological differences and social experience, men and women in
general tend to demonstrate dissimilar attitudes, behaviours and
values (Putrevu, 2001). For instance, female participants attach
more importance to self-transcendence values, being more con-
cerned about social justice, unity with nature and environmental
protection (Schwartz, 1992; Lindeman and Verkasalo, 2005;
Schwartz and Rubel, 2005; Fukukawa et al., 2007). In contrast,
male participants attach more importance to self-enhancement
values, being more worried about success, capability and ambition
(Schwartz, 1992; Schwartz and Rubel, 2005; Lan et al., 2009).
Gender also influences how individuals pursuit their goals.
Women tend to highlight social goals (e.g. to develop relations and
maintain connectedness with groups, affiliations and community).
In contrast, men tend to stress ego-centred goals and to be less
concerned with social affiliations (Hofstede, 1980; Noble et al.,
2006). In addition, women tend to adopt tender, communal and
unselfish behaviour, whereas men tend to behave in a tough, com-
petitive and dominant manner (Hofstede, 1998; Eagly, 2009;
Luchs and Mooradian, 2012). For instance, a study conducted with
MBA students showed that female participants are more likely to
support government enforcement of social and environmental
accountability standards (i.e. social goals) than male participants
(Fukukawa et al., 2007). Research also showed that female par-
ticipants donate more time and money to the charity than male
participants (Simmons and Emanuele, 2007; Leslie et al., 2013).
Previous studies in retail contexts have shown that gender has
strong effects on shopping orientation and behaviours (Dholakia,
1999; Mortimer and Weeks, 2011; Kotzé et al., 2012). For
example, female participants had more positive attitudes towards
social interaction when shopping than male participants
(Meyers-Levy and Sternthal, 1991; Polegato and Zaichkowsky,
1994; Kuruvilla et al., 2009). This means that women are more
relationship-oriented, whereas men are more task-oriented
(Meyers-Levy and Sternthal, 1991; Polegato and Zaichkowsky,
1994; Campbell, 1997; Karatepe, 2011). Research has also found
that men and women have different levels of materialism, con-
spicuous consumption and impulse buying (Segal and Podoshen,
2013).
Gender has a significant effect on sustainable consumption,
which is particularly important to this research. Female partici-
pants are more likely to engage in sustainable consumption
because they hold stronger attitudes towards the environment than
male participants (Diamantopoulos et al., 2003; Jain and Kaur,
2006). In addition, women tend to be more socially responsible
(Roberts, 1993), environmentally concerned (Berkowitz and
Lutterman, 1968; Webster, 1975; Schwartz and Miller, 1991;
Schultz, 2001; Mostafa, 2007; Lee, 2009) and ecologically con-
scious than men (Roberts, 1996a). Women tend also to consider
the impacts that their consumption may cause on others more
Gender, identities and sustainable consumption D. Costa Pinto et al.
International Journal of Consumer Studies
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
2
carefully than men (Roberts, 1996b; Mainieri et al., 1997;
Straughan and Roberts, 1999; Noble et al., 2006). In contrast, men
tend to have wasteful habits of consumption, which suggests they
are less concerned about environmental scarcity for future genera-
tions than female participants (Honkanen and Olsen, 2009; Yue
et al., 2010; Sundie et al., 2011; Griskevicius et al., 2012). Female
participants are also more willing to change their lifestyle in order
to reduce the negative environmental impacts of consumption than
male participants (Abeliotis et al., 2010). Moreover, female par-
ticipants are willing to buy and to pay more for an environmentally
friendly product than male participants (Gil et al., 2000; Laroche
et al., 2001; Leelakulthanit and Hongcharu, 2012). Furthermore,
studies showed that the adoption of sustainable practices may
depend upon reasons beyond conservation of the environment. For
example, Hardy and Van Vugt (2006) demonstrated that people
who show altruistic behaviour can gain status in their groups. Such
perception may be of greater importance for male than for female
participants, since men tend to attach more importance to self-
enhancement values (Schwartz, 1992; Schwartz and Rubel, 2005;
Lan et al., 2009). Because male participants are more concerned
about personal success, competition and demonstration of capa-
bilities, the adoption of sustainable practices might function as a
costly signal associated with status (Griskevicius et al., 2010).
The moderating role of identities
Identity-based motivation theory shows that the way people think
about themselves (‘as individuals’ or ‘as group members’) influ-
ence which goals and strategies they will use (Oyserman, 2013).
Identity-based motivation theory defines identities as personal or
social (Oyserman, 2009). Personal identity refers to the way
people think about themselves as individuals, their own traits,
characteristics, values and goals (Oyserman et al., 2009). In con-
trast, social identity refers to how people think about themselves as
a part of a group, its shared traits, characteristics, values and goals
through connections as group members or social relationships
(Oyserman et al., 2009).
Past research suggests that identities can modify the relative
importance of social-oriented behaviours, such as sustainable con-
sumption. For instance, when people are under social influence
(focus on social identity), they tend to make more ethical choices
(Szmigin et al., 2009) and to promote pro-environmental behav-
iours (Goldsmith and Goldsmith, 2011). In addition, when an
identity related to ethical values is salient (ethical identity), con-
sumers have more positive attitudes and purchase intentions
towards organic products (Michaelidou and Hassan, 2008).
Moreover, Salazar et al. (2013) showed that social influence
exerted by others (focus on social identity) may modify consum-
ers’ decisions to buy environmentally friendly products rather than
conventional ones.
Extending these findings, the present research suggests that
identities can moderate the effects of gender on sustainable con-
sumption. In particular, this research suggests that the salience of
personal identity highlights the importance of personal values in a
given situation, leading judgements and behaviours that are con-
gruent with the consumer’s values. Social and personal identities
can be dynamically salient or activated in the context (Oyserman
and Destin, 2010). The activation of a mindset results from letting
people think temporarily in one way or another (Torelli and
Kaikati, 2009). For example, when consumers have their social
identity salient, which means in public consumption situations,
they think about themselves as a part of a group, and in this case,
consumers increase their status motivation. However, when con-
sumers have their personal identity salient, in a private consump-
tion context, they think about themselves as individuals, and in this
case, group status as a motivation for sustainable consumption
decreases (Griskevicius et al., 2010).
Thus, this research suggests that personal identity salience (i.e.
when priming people with personal focus), female participants
will present higher levels of sustainable consumption because they
have higher levels of self-transcendence values. However, male
participants will show lower levels of sustainable consumption
because they have higher levels of self-enhancement values. In
addition, this research suggests that salience of social identity will
encourage consumers to act in accordance with social goals
(Briley and Wyer, 2001). According to Griskevicius et al. (2010),
the salience of social identity increases sustainable consumption
because people look for social recognition acting as a sustainable
consumer.
Additional research demonstrates that sustainable consumption
relates to a shared consciousness that stems from social categori-
zation and social identity (Cherrier, 2006). In other words, the
adoption of sustainable consumption behaviour provides distinc-
tion from those that do not adopt such practices. Consequently,
salience of social identity will increase levels of sustainable prac-
tices for male participants (as the sustainable behaviour may be
used as a signal of status and recognition), but will not change
levels of sustainable consumption for female participants (as they
are more oriented towards communal goals). Therefore, making a
social identity salient will attenuate the effects of gender on sus-
tainable consumption (i.e. female participants and male partici-
pants will have similar levels of sustainable consumption).
Figure 1 presents the theoretical model.
Method
Participants and procedure
Two hundred fifteen participants from Germany took part in the
experiment. Germany is one of the world’s most environmentally
responsible countries (Theil, 2008). Participants were invited
online using e-mail addresses and social networks (e.g. Facebook)
by a trained researcher, in a convenience sample. Participants
Gender
Personal (vs. social)
identities
Sustainable
consumption
Figure 1 The influence of gender and identities on sustainable
consumption.
D. Costa Pinto et al. Gender, identities and sustainable consumption
International Journal of Consumer Studies
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
3
completed the study online and were unaware of experimental
conditions, which means that they did not know in advance that
there were different priming tasks (personal and social identities).
This procedure was used to reduce participants’ demand effects
(Nichols and Maner, 2008), avoiding potential bias. As a cover
story, participants received instructions to complete several inde-
pendent tasks about consumer behaviour in a 30-min session.
The study is a 2 (gender: female vs. male) by 2 (identity:
personal vs. social) between subjects experimental design. Firstly,
participants answered questions about gender, age, education and
occupation. The sample for this study had the following demo-
graphic characteristics: age 18–65; 68% female participants and
32% men; 41% students, 53% working and 6% retired or unem-
ployed. Chi-square tests show that the sample was equally distrib-
uted in identity conditions: age groups [χ=1.197, df = 2, not
significant (ns)], gender (χ=0.336, df = 1, ns), education
(χ=2.658, df = 2, ns) and occupation (χ=4.226, df = 2, ns).
Identity priming
Immediately after completing the demographic questions, partici-
pants were randomly assigned to one of the two identity conditions
(personal vs. social). Identities were primed using similarities and
differences between family and friends (SDFF) as a priming task
(adapted from Oyserman and Lee, 2007). In this task, participants
were asked to think about characteristics that make them unique
(personal identity) or similar to their family and friends (social
identity). Specifically, the task asked participants in the personal
condition: ‘For the next two minutes please think of what makes
you different from your family and your friends. What do you
independently of the opinion of others expect of yourself and
expect you yourself to do?’. Participants in social identity condi-
tion read the following instructions: ‘For the next two minutes
please think of what you have in common with your family and
your friends. What do they your family and friends expect of
you and expect you to do?’.
After that, participants wrote down statements showing how
they perceive themselves (from a personal vs. social identity point
of view). Specifically, the task asked participants to, ‘Please write
down your thoughts by completing the sentences below’. For the
personal identity, participants wrote down three sentences for Dif-
ferences from my friends and family and three sentences regarding
Expectations I have of myself’. For the social identity, participants
wrote down three sentences for What we have in common and
three sentences regarding Expectations they have of me (see
Appendix A).
Manipulation checks
The manipulation check for identity priming consisted of the nar-
ratives from the SDFF task (adapted from Oyserman and Lee,
2007). One independent judge (native speaker of German) ana-
lysed the identity representations made by participants. Specifi-
cally, the independent judge read each one of the identity
representations and classified them as having a salient social iden-
tity or personal identity. The scale ranged from 1 (strong salient
social identity)to6(strong salient personal identity). For
example, a case with strong salient social identity (e.g. ‘we are part
of the same family’) was classified as ‘1’. In contrast, a case with
strong salience of personal identity (e.g. ‘I am unique’) was clas-
sified as ‘6’. The cases that had both descriptions (e.g. ‘I am part
of my family, but I am unique’) were classified in the scale mid-
points (e.g. ‘3’). As expected, identity priming had a main effect
on identity representations [F
(1,206)
= 1049.15, P < 0.001]. Specifi-
cally, participants in personal identity condition had more personal
identity representations than participants in social identity
(M
personal id
= 5.4; M
social id
= 2.4;P< 0.001). Therefore, the manipu-
lation worked as expected.
Sustainable consumption
Sustainable consumption is the main dependent variable of this
study. Participants reported their assessment of sustainable con-
sumption practices (seven items, α=0.804) on a scale ranging
from 1 (not at all like me)to6(very much like me) (similar to
Schwartz et al., 2001). Specifically, participants read the following
instructions ‘Next, you will read several statements regarding
consumption behaviour practices. Please read these statements
carefully and think about how much you identify with the
expressed ideas. Please select one answer for each statement’ (see
Appendix B).
Participants indicated their assessment of how similar their own
sustainable consumption practices were to those described (e.g.
‘He consumes consciously. He asks himself whether he really
needs what he’s about to purchase’). Each item from the scale
describes a person’s goals or wishes that point implicitly to the
importance of sustainable consumption behaviour. This procedure
ensured the validity of the findings, since it is more concrete and
less cognitively complex than similar procedures (Schwartz et al.,
2001). In addition, this approach (adapted from Schwartz et al.,
2001) draws participants’ attention to important sustainable con-
sumption practices presented in the scale. In such cases, by
making participants judge the level to which they conform to the
practices described in the portraits, consumers indicate relevant
aspects related to their own sustainable consumption behaviour. In
addition, this procedure is more efficient because other procedures
that focus attention on the self may lead participants to think about
the wide range of self-characteristics accessible to them (e.g. self-
presentation), which may provide a less precise answer in terms of
the characteristics accessed in this study. To conclude, this proce-
dure offers a more reliable assessment of participants’ sustainable
consumption practices, based upon their self-reported similarity to
the practices portrayed in the scale (Schwartz et al., 2001).
Results
Main effects of gender and identity
Firstly, results showed the main effects of gender and identity on
sustainable consumption. In particular, this research suggests that
female participants will have higher levels of sustainable con-
sumption than male participants. In addition, this research sug-
gests that consumers will have higher levels of sustainable
consumption when social (vs. personal) identity is salient. Table 1
provides a summary of the results.
Results from analysis of variance (ANOVA) shows that gender
effects on sustainable consumption were marginally significant
[F
(1,211)
= 3.32, P = 0.07]. As expected, female participants
Gender, identities and sustainable consumption D. Costa Pinto et al.
International Journal of Consumer Studies
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
4
declared more sustainable consumption practices than male par-
ticipants (M
female participants
= 4.06 vs. M
men
= 3.90; P = 0.07). The
ANOVA results showed that identity does not have a significant
effect on sustainable consumption [F
(1,211)
= 0.52, ns]. That is, con-
sumers in social (vs. personal) identities declared similar levels of
sustainable consumption (M
social
= 3.98 vs. M
personal
= 3.88, ns).
The results provide further evidence for past research (e.g.
Roberts, 1996a), suggesting that female participants are likely to
engage more in sustainable consumption than male participants. In
addition, the findings provide different insights into the effect of
identities on sustainable consumption. In contrast to previous
research (e.g. Griskevicius et al., 2010), the findings do not
support the main effect of identities on sustainable consumption.
This research argues that in Griskevicius et al. (2010), in addition
to social identity salience, consumers had high status motives to
engage in sustainable behaviours. However, this study tested
directly the effect of identities on sustainable consumption, sug-
gesting that, without status motives, consumers in social identity
are not willing to engage in higher levels of sustainable consump-
tion than consumers in personal identity. These findings reinforce
the interaction between gender and identity, suggesting that these
effects could be related to the salience of values (self-enhancement
vs. self-transcendence), instead of status motives, as suggested by
Griskevicius et al. (2010).
Interaction effects of gender and identity
Secondly, the results explore how the interaction of gender and
identity affects sustainable consumption. More specifically, per-
sonal identity highlights the importance of a person’s own values,
suggesting that in personal identity condition female participants
will be more willing to engage in sustainable consumption than
male participants. However, because social identity make social
goals salient (vs. self-oriented goals), this research suggests that
activating social identity will make consumers more willing to
engage in sustainable consumption, independently of gender.
Results from a 2 × 2 ANOVA revealed the predicted effect of
interaction between gender and identity on sustainable consump-
tion [F
(1,211)
= 8.34, P < 0.01]. As expected, when personal identity
was salient, female participants declared higher sustainable con-
sumption than male participants [M
female participants
= 4.22 vs.
M
men
= 3.53; F
(1,211)
= 11.29, P < 0.001]. However, more inter-
estingly, when social identity was salient, male and female
participants reported similar sustainable consumption levels
[M
female participants
= 3.90 vs. M
men
= 4.06; F
(1, 211)
= .56, ns]. Figure 2
illustrates the interaction between gender and identities on sustain-
able consumption.
In order to provide better understanding of the interaction, post-
hoc contrasts compare how identity influenced sustainable con-
sumption effects for female and male participants. More
specifically, results indicate that female participants declared mar-
ginally higher sustainable consumption in personal (vs. social)
identity [M
difference
= 0.32; F
(1,211)
= 3.77, P = 0.054]. In contrast,
results demonstrate that male participants declared higher sustain-
able consumption when social (vs. personal) identity was salient
[M
difference
= 0.53; F
(1,211)
= 4.73, P < 0.05].
Discussion
This research demonstrated the interaction effects of gender and
identity on sustainable consumption. Firstly, although previous
research suggested that female participants in general tend to
be more environmentally responsible than male participants
(Roberts, 1996a; Straughan and Roberts, 1999), this research dem-
onstrated that the effects of gender on sustainable consumption
might depend upon the salient identity. The findings indicated that
gender affected sustainable consumption when personal identity
Table 1 Summary of results
Variable Conditions Effects
Gender
(main effect)
Female participants = 4.06 Male participants = 3.90 F
(1,211)
= 3.32
P = 0.07
Identity
(main effect)
Personal identity = 3.88 Social identity = 3.98 F
(1,211)
= 0.52
ns
Gender and identity
(interaction effects)
Personal identity
Female participants = 4.2
Male participants = 3.5
[F
(1,211)
= 11.29, P < 0.001]
Social identity
Female participants = 3.9
Male participants = 4.1
[F
(1,211)
= 0.56, ns]
F
(1,211)
= 8.34
P < 0.01
ns, not significant.
4.2
3.9
3.5
4.1
3.0
3.2
3.4
3.6
3.8
4.0
4.2
4.4
Personal identity Social identity
Sustainable consumption
Female participants Male participants
Figure 2 Gender and identities on sustainable consumption.
D. Costa Pinto et al. Gender, identities and sustainable consumption
International Journal of Consumer Studies
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
5
was salient, and in this case, female participants demonstrated
higher levels of sustainable consumption than male participants.
Specifically in the case of personal identities, messages like you
can do more for the environment’ have impact on sustainable
consumption only for female participants. Surprisingly, male and
female participants had similar levels of sustainable consumption
when social identity was salient. The findings showed that when
consumers thought about family members or friends (focus on
social identity), there was no significant difference for gender in
terms of sustainable consumption. In this case, pro-environmental
messages should use more social approach like we must recycle
our plastic bottles’ as the results would likely be positive either for
female or for male participants.
Secondly, the findings demonstrated that identity salience can
change the effects of gender on sustainable consumption. Using
the identity-based motivation theory (Oyserman, 2009), this
research explained how identity salience can modify sustainable
consumption practices. When social identity was salient, male
participants increased their levels of sustainable behaviour to the
same level as female participants due to mechanisms of social
comparison and recognition. This means that when social identity
was salient, adopting sustainable behaviour probably became a
symbolic distinction. This research proposes that recognition and
distinction are particularly important for male participants
because, as previously demonstrated, male participants tend to be
more motivated for self-enhancement values, whereas female par-
ticipants are more motivated for self-transcendence values
(Lindeman and Verkasalo, 2005).
Thirdly, this research contributes to reduce gender effects on
sustainable consumption (Roberts, 1996a), increasing the level of
pro-environmental behaviour particularly for male consumers.
This research also contributes to previous studies (Cherrier, 2006;
Griskevicius et al., 2010) by bringing more evidence about the
relationship between sustainable consumption and social identity.
Managerial implications
This research presents important managerial implications regard-
ing sustainable consumption and environmental campaigns in two
contexts: for public policy makers and for business. Firstly, this
research illustrates how the findings can help public policy
makers. According to Gordon et al. (2011), sustainable consump-
tion needs to be promoted by governments in order to encourage
people to behave in a more pro-environmental way. In general,
pro-environmental campaigns push consumers into personal
actions (i.e. focusing on the personal identity ‘Only you can
help’). These campaigns mostly involve personal sacrifices such as
‘using less’ and ‘reducing self-comforts’ (Schultz and Zelezny,
2003). In addition, previous research also shows that these pro-
environmental messages not only rely upon the fact that consum-
ers perceive the issue to be important but also use assertive
language (i.e. the imperative form, such as ‘do’ and ‘go,’ leaving
no option for refusal) (Kronrod et al., 2012). The results showed
that pro-environmental messages should use less assertive lan-
guage when targeting a general audience made up of male and
female consumers. These messages should also use social appeals
focusing on family members and friends.
As demonstrated, gender differences can reduce the impact of
pro-environmental messages. When personal identity is was
salient, male participants showed lower levels of sustainable con-
sumption compared with female participants. However, this
research proposes that when social identity is activated, gender
effects will decrease and effectiveness of the messages will be
enhanced.
The ‘Recycle for London’ initiative (launched in 2003) aiming
to simplify recycling and encourage Londoners to put it into prac-
tice (Recycle Now Partners, 2013) helps to illustrate the results.
This campaign relies upon advertisements to encourage recycling,
such as ‘Don’t forget to recycle your plastic bottle’ and ‘Let’s
re-use paper where possible’ (WRAP Campaign, 2013). In the first
message, the personal identity is salient (i.e. don’t forget), which
will be more effective for female participants. A possible way to
increase the impact for both genders would be by making social
identity salient, such as, ‘We must not forget to recycle our plastic
bottles.’ However, the second message (Let’s re-use paper where
possible) is more aligned with social identity (Let’s).This research
suggests that messages like the second one will be more effective
in increasing sustainable consumption behaviour by both male and
female consumers.
Secondly, this research illustrates how business can stimulate
consumers to behave in a more sustainable way. Sustainable con-
sumption is potentially profitable from a business perspective
(Gordon et al., 2011). Companies are taking advantage from this
sustainable consumption trend by developing more sustainable
products (Peattie and Charter, 1992) and applying the concept of
sustainability in their products (Gordon et al., 2011). For instance,
Starbucks has launched the following campaign on the company’s
website, ‘How you can help: Reduce waste and save money’
(Starbucks Website, 2013). In such a campaign, since personal
identity is salient, the findings suggest that it will have a greater
impact on female consumers. In order to increase men’s sustain-
able consumption to the same level as that of female participants,
the message should focus on social identity. Thus, this research
suggests that rephrasing the campaign to We can all help. Join
others to reduce waste and save money’ would have results that are
more positive.
Limitations and directions for future research
This study has some limitations that can guide future studies. The
first limitation is the sample, which consisted of only German
participants with access to Internet. Although such a sample may
have biased the results, it is important to note that, in Germany,
Internet penetration rate is 83% (Internet World Stats, 2013).
Moreover, this could explain the predominance of young partici-
pants in the sample. Future research could focus on another
method of data collection in order to consider a different, wider
age range. This could make possible to investigate whether gender
and identity effects change in different age groups. In addition,
convenience sampling is a limitation of the study. Future studies
could use representative samples to investigate the effects of
gender and identities on sustainable consumption.
Another limitation is that the study sample consists of a country
where the population is relatively individualistic (Hofstede, 1994).
Individualism relates to independent people who tend to look after
themselves only. Future research could examine whether the
results differ according to cultural contexts such as collectivistic
(e.g. Brazil) and individualistic countries (e.g. the US).
Gender, identities and sustainable consumption D. Costa Pinto et al.
International Journal of Consumer Studies
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
6
In line with the values theory (e.g. Schwartz, 1992), this
research suggests that self-transcendence values can mediate the
effects of the relationship between gender and identities on sus-
tainable consumption. Self-transcendence values consist of the
welfare and interests of others, promoting people to transcend
selfish concerns; they are also known as social-altruistic values
(Stern et al., 1995) or collective values (Schwartz, 1992). Thus,
future research could examine whether self-transcendence values
mediate the proposed relationship.
Conclusion
The findings extend previous research, providing insights into
sustainable consumption. In particular, this research indicated that
female and male participants tend to engage in sustainable con-
sumption in different levels when personal identity is salient. As
the findings suggested, when personal identity was active, female
consumers were more inclined to sustainable consumption. In
contrast, social identity salience increased male participants’
levels of sustainable consumption to reach similar levels as that of
female participants. This research demonstrated that the use of
salient identities for female and male participants can help mar-
keters and public policy managers to increase levels of sustainable
consumption.
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Appendices
Appendix A. Priming personal and social identities
Condition
Identity priming
(adapted from Oyserman and Lee, 2007)
Personal identity For the next two minutes please think of what makes you different from your family and your friends.
What do you independently from the opinion of others expect of yourself and expect you yourself to
do? Please write down your thoughts by completing the below sentences.
Differences from my friends and family . . .
I ...____________
I . . . ____________
I . . . ____________
Expectations I have of myself . . .
I expect myself to . . . ____________
I expect myself to . . . ____________
I expect myself to . . . ____________
Social identity For the next two minutes please think of what you have in common with your family and your friends.
What do they your family and friends expect of you and expect you to do? Please write down your
thoughts by completing the below sentences.
What we have in common . . .
We . . . ____________
We . . . ____________
We . . . ____________
Expectations they have of myself . . .
They expect me to . . . ____________
They expect me to . . . ____________
They expect me to . . . ____________
D. Costa Pinto et al. Gender, identities and sustainable consumption
International Journal of Consumer Studies
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
9
Appendix B. Evaluation of sustainable consumption practices
Sustainable consumption items
(adapted from Schwartz et al., 2001; α = 0.804)
1. He/She prefers transportation that causes less CO
2
emissions when travelling. In town he/she walks, bikes, takes public transport or uses
car-sharing platforms.
2. He/She reduces his energy consumption by simple means such as unplugging appliances like cell phone chargers, laptops and stereo that
aren’t used all the time. He/She switches lights off when leaving a room.
3. He/She reduces garbage. Generally, he/she prefers to purchase products with little, reusable, recyclable packaging, or even no packaging at
all. He/She uses canvas bags for grocery shopping instead of one-way plastic bags.
4. He/She consumes consciously. For example, he/she asks himself whether he/she really needs what he/she’s about to purchase.
5. He/She is conscious of what products that he/she consumes are made of. He/She prefers to buy things out of wood (preferably from
sustainable forestry) and other natural resources or at least biodegradable materials. Wherever possible he/she opts for recycled paper or
paper from sustainable forestry.
6. He/She recycles garbage at home, at work, and at his/her holiday destinations. He/She incites family and friends to recycle their garbage as
well.
7. He/She reuses stuff that is often directly thrown away. For instance, he/she uses the backside of documents that aren’t needed anymore as
scrap/jotting paper.
Gender, identities and sustainable consumption D. Costa Pinto et al.
International Journal of Consumer Studies
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
10
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... We base this assumption revealing an underlying disposition that an individual is responsible and morally good instead of selfish and careless (Dixon and Mikolon, 2020). Primary support for this assertion comes from a growing body of sustainability research that points to consumers' identity associations with products and the relation of sustainability purchase as a manner to nourish an identity (Costa Pinto et al., 2014). ...
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... Regardless of whether the consumers are from a developing or a developed country, the effect of mass participation in SCB was the same for the same SMI service situation. Second, previous studies have shown that consumers with higher education levels and higher incomes have stronger SCB (Costa Pinto et al., 2014). In the specific SMI service environment examined in this study, the effects of income and education appeared offset. ...
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