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Mindfulness and Sustainable Consumption: A Systematic
Literature Review of Research Approaches and Findings
Daniel Fischer1*, Laura Stanszus2, Sonja Geiger2, Paul Grossman3, Ulf Schrader2
1 Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Scharnhorststr. 1, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
2 Technische Universität Berlin, Marchstr. 23, 10587 Berlin, Germany
3 European Centre for Mindfulness (EZfA), Merzhauser Str. 173, 79100 Freiburg, Germany
* corresponding author (email@example.com)
Mindfulness, derived from Buddhist origins, refers to deliberate, unbiased and openhearted
awareness of perceptible experience in the present moment. With its focus on cultivation of
benevolent and clear-headed values and actions to self, others and the world, as well as its
possible value in fostering greater coherence between values, attitudes and behavior, the
concept of mindfulness has most recently attracted the interest of scholars in sustainable
consumption research. So far, however, research on the connection between mindfulness and
sustainable consumption is scattered across different disciplines and lacks integration. This
paper contributes to a consolidation of the field. Based on a systematic literature review
(Ninitial sample=1,137 publications, Npreliminary sample=32, Nfinal sample=7), it represents a stocktaking
exercise to evaluate the research methodologies used and findings reported in the emerging
field of empirical research relating mindfulness to sustainable consumption. The focus of the
review is on four potential mechanisms of mindfulness for sustainable consumption that have
been postulated in seminal conceptual works in the field: to disrupt routines, to promote more
congruence with regard to the attitude-behavior gap, to nurture non-materialistic values, to
enhance well-being, and to foster pro-social behavior. Preliminary evidence suggests support
for these assumed potentials. However, the review also reveals that there are serious
methodological challenges and shortcomings in existing empirical approaches, namely with
regard to definitional issues, the development and use of instruments, selection of samples,
study designs and the inclusion of mediating or moderating variables. The paper concludes
with a discussion of challenges and recommendations for future work in the field.
Mindfulness; meditation; sustainable consumption; literature review; methodology; consumer
Consumption has emerged as a key priority area in research and policy-making related to
sustainable development. Given the significant impact of such different consumption areas as
food and nutrition, mobility, housing or textile consumption (Ivanova et al., 2015; Tukker et
al., 2010), the search for approaches to promote more sustainable consumer behaviors has
become somewhat of a “holy grail“ (Kenis and Mathijs, 2012) for researchers and policy
makers alike. Despite advances made in recent years in sustainable consumption research
(SCR) (Reisch and Thøgersen, 2015), the search for evidence on how consumer behavior can
be more effectively influenced towards sustainability remains an ongoing and pressing issue
for the SCR agenda (Kaufmann-Hayoz et al., 2012). Debates about future directions for SCR
commonly refer to three key challenges.
A first key challenge addresses the question of how individual factors like knowledge,
problem awareness or attitude actually relate to respective actions and behaviors – commonly
referred to as knowledge-action gap, awareness-behavior gap or attitude-behavior gap
(Kollmuss and Agyeman, 2002). SCR has shown that consumption behaviors are, to a
significant extent, shaped by routines and habits (Fischer and Hanley, 2007, Schäfer et al.,
2012) and embedded in broader social practices (Spaargaren, 2003) that entail often
unquestioned conventional, or “normal,” standards for consumption behaviors (Shove, 2003).
Hence, researchers in SCR are called upon to explore and advance approaches that effectively
reduce the attitude-behavior gap by enhancing the capacity of individuals to reflect upon these
routinized behaviors and to re-align them with their underpinning values and intentions.
A second key challenge emerges from the fact that SCR does not represent a single discipline,
but is constituted by a field of disciplines related to specific SCR issues (Lorek and Vergragt,
2015). SCR is characterized by innovations and insights drawn from quite varying inter- and
multidisciplinary perspectives (Di Giulio et al., 2014). Given these variations, a major task for
SCR, as a largely problem-driven field, is to promote work on the interface between different
disciplines and discourses in related fields without becoming too fragmented.
A third key challenge refers to a lack of comprehensive, systematic overviews of SCR
findings on policy-relevant topics. Studies in SCR indicate that perceived inconclusiveness of
findings may hamper decision-makers’ utilization of relevant evidence from the field
(Heiskanen et al., 2014), causing what has been termed “implementation gap” (Tukker et al.,
2006). In light of this, a key challenge for SCR is to advance and consolidate an evidence base
of effective approaches to study and promote sustainable consumer behavior, from which both
the interdisciplinary scientific community and societal decision-makers can draw.
The research presented in this paper attempts to address these key challenges within the
framework of a specific issue. We focus on mindfulness research as a vibrant and rapidly
emerging area that has inspired researchers in many fields in the past years, including SCR
(key challenge 2, section 3). A strong interest in respect to SCR is to elucidate the possibility
of mindfulness for influencing the attitude-behavior gap and consequently promoting
sustainable consumption behavior (key challenge 1; section 4). As with any new field of
research, the existing body of empirical studies on the connection between mindfulness and
sustainable consumption is, so far, rich in pilot studies among different disciplinary fields, but
rather fragmented and hardly integrated into an overall perspective. For this purpose, we have
conducted a systematic literature review (SLR). In light of the lack of integrating and
synthesizing reviews in this emerging field, this paper seeks to provide a systematic overview
of the state of empirical research on mindfulness and sustainable consumption (key challenge
2; sections 5 and 6). The main research questions (RQ) underpinning this study are the
RQ 1 How many empirical studies exist on the nexus between mindfulness and
RQ 2 How were these studies conducted?
RQ 3 What are their results?
As a necessary foundation for answering the research questions outlined, we first give some
theoretical background to the notion of mindfulness, as well as its relevance for SCR. The
main part of the paper describes the specific methodology of the SLR used in this study and
presents and discusses the findings of the review. Finally, we provide recommendations for
the future development of this promising field of research and its overall contribution to
address key challenges in SCR.
2. Mindfulness and Sustainable Consumption Research
Mindfulness has become a subject of interdisciplinary research in recent years. In what
follows, we sketch the origins of the concept, highlight key characteristics and elaborate on
the potential of mindfulness for SCR based on empirical findings that have sparked interest in
mindfulness among different research communities.
2.1 Mindfulness: an emerging field of research
Mindfulness is a word for which a considerable number of diverging definitions exists, one
set primarily derived from a cognitive psychological orientation (Langer and Moldoveanu,
2000), and another set adapted from Buddhist psychological concepts (Chiesa, 2013;
Grossman, 2010 and 2015; Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Current difficulty in defining mindfulness in
the scientific and clinical literature can partly be attributed to this diversity of origin, as well
as to its recently, highly varied secular adaptations, particularly in clinical and behavioral
research (Grossman, 2010).
Mindfulness, as understood for this SLR, aligns with the traditional Buddhist definition of the
concept. It is characterized by a deliberate and conscious focus on the present moment
(Brown and Ryan, 2003; Kabat-Zinn, 2003) that includes a dispassionate, but openhearted
awareness of perceptible mental states and processes (Grossman, 2010). This special kind of
attentiveness refers to the act of cultivating unbiased awareness of all moment-to-moment
perceptible experience, whether sensory, affective, thought-related or imaginal, maintaining
contact to one’s immediate experience and letting it pass (as well as momentarily possible)
without aversive or appetitive emotional responses. The concept of mindfulness in its
traditional Buddhist conception is rooted in the distinct interpretative horizon of Buddhist
psychology (Hyland, 2011), which proposes that cultivation of mindfulness is intrinsically
tied to the emergence of specific intentions and attitudes towards ourselves and others, such as
kindness, compassion, generosity and equanimity (Grossman, 2013, 2015). It is believed that
mindfulness can be enhanced by means of a variety of practices that systematically train
awareness and emotional (non-) reactivity. These practices are considered to nurture the
development of ethical values aimed at benevolence toward the animate and inanimate world
(Grossman, 2015). They may also facilitate a greater awareness of thoughts, emotions and
responses to stimuli, in contrast to habitual automatic reactions to them (Chambers et al.,
Bibliometric data of the key terms “mindfulness” and “sustainable consumption” derived
from SCOPUS database shows the exceptional growth of research on mindfulness) over the
past years. While the number of publications on sustainable consumption has grown by factor
5 in the course of the time period covered in the database analysis, similar publications on
mindfulness have increased from about 80 in 2004 to more than 1.450 in 2015.
Alongside the growth of the field, contexts have started changing, too, moving research on
mindfulness beyond the clinical context (for more information see Bolz and Singer, 2013;
Grossman et al., 2004; Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992) into, for example, healthcare, psychology and
neuroscience. Notable benefits of mindfulness programs found in these studies include the
reduction of stress levels through mindfulness practice, as well as improvement of individual
well-being and other health-related conditions, such as anxiety, satisfaction with life or
possibly even physiological processes, e.g. immune function (Chambers et al., 2009). Positive
effects on self-esteem, self-acceptance as well as (self-) compassion and empathy have also
been reported (Birnie et al., 2010; Bolz and Singer, 2013; Chiesa and Serretti, 2009; Shapiro
et al., 1998).
In the social psychological context, an empirical study by Chatzisarantis and Hagger (2007)
suggests that attentional aspects related to mindfulness may be associated with narrowing the
aforementioned “attitude-behavior-gap” in consumer behavior research by aligning
participants’ intentions to engage in health-related behaviors with their actual behavior.
Further empirical research has identified a positive relationship between self-compassion, as a
potential consequence of mindfulness, and pro-social and altruistic behaviors (Bolz and
The aforementioned research does not explicitly relate to consumption. The following section
will make that link by discussing existing pioneer conceptual works on the connection
between mindfulness and consumption, as well as some empirical findings in mindfulness
research that directly relate to consumption.
2.2 Mindfulness: a relevant concept for sustainable consumption research?
One of the earlier conceptual proposal on how mindfulness might be able to contribute to
sustainable consumption comes from Rosenberg who sees a twofold contribution of the
cultivation of mindfulness: By enhancing awareness of “potentially accessible cognitive-
behavioral processes underlying consumption that have become relatively automatic”
(Rosenberg, 2005: 108), mindfulness would allow for more deliberate choices. Additionally,
mindfulness might re-instill a sense of interconnectedness and interrelatedness between
people as a genuine (or synergetic), non-consumerist satisfier of the need for fulfillment. Pilot
studies in mindfulness research by Pollock et al. (1998) and Dong and Brunel (2006), indeed,
suggest that susceptibility to particular marketing techniques and persuasion “can be reduced
when people are more mindful” (Rosenberg, 2005: 111) and that the cultivation of
mindfulness might be a supporting factor in achieving greater personal well-being and more
ecologically sustainable lifestyles at the same time (Crompton and Kasser, 2009).
More recently, Ericson et al. (2014) and Bahl et al. (2016) proposed detailed argumentations
on how mindfulness could change our consumption patterns. The authors agree with
Rosenberg (2005) that mindfulness could positively influence consumers’ awareness of their
own (consumption) habits and strengthen non-materialistic values in life, leading to reduced
aspirations to consume.
In summing up the available conceptual discussions of how mindfulness could promote
changes in consumption behaviors, we find four main facets referring to the potentials of
mindfulness for SCR:
(1) Disruption of routines: There is broad agreement that mindfulness practice may
enhance awareness, enabling individuals to observe and change previously
unconscious habits, or as sometimes referred to: switch off the autopilot mode
(Grossman et al., 2004). For sustainable consumption this holds the potential to
diminish unconscious, non-sustainable consumption choices (Rosenberg, 2005; Bahl
et al., 2016).
(2) Congruence: Self-perceived inattention to everyday experiences was found to be
associated with a widening of the attitude-behavior gap (Chatzisarantis and Hagger,
2007). As mindfulness implies the inverse of inattentiveness, i.e. enhanced awareness
of immediate daily experiences, mindfulness could be associated with closure of the
attitude-behavior gap, which is supportive of more sustainable consumption patterns
(Ericson et al., 2014; Rosenberg, 2005).
(3) Non-material values and wellbeing: Mindfulness practices may be conducive to
clarifying values and enhancing the role of non-material values in people’s lives
(Ericson et al., 2014). As described above, the modern Western understanding of
mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist psychology, which proposes that three
unwholesome qualities are common in human attitudes and behavior: greed, delusion
and aversion (Grossman, 2015). Exercising mindfulness is proposed as one approach
to counteract these unwholesome tendencies by cultivating openness, generosity,
kindness and mental clarity. The latter antidotal mental qualities are, on the other
hand, seen as necessary for the phenomenological process of investigation of self and
other that defines mindfulness (in order to be able to maintain an open, unconditional
stance in the face of the vagaries of human experience). As a consequence of
fostering benevolent attitudes, mindfulness may literally foster embodiment of an
eudaemonic tone during its enactment. Consequently, mindfulness may not only
enhance individual well-being, but also contribute to greater intrinsic and socially
oriented values and behavior, as opposed to materialistic, hedonistic values (and
corresponding behavior) (Burroughs and Rindfleisch, 2002; Kasser et al., 2014;
Richins and Dawson, 1992).
(4) Pro-social behavior: Consistent with the above-mentioned essentially ethical
functions of mindfulness, recent evidence suggests that pro-social behaviors are
among the outcomes of meditation practice (Lim et al., 2015). Especially other-
oriented meditation techniques (e.g. loving-kindness or metta meditation) has shown
to increase compassion (Condon et al., 2013) and pro-social behaviors (Leiberg et al.,
2011). Compassion as an emotional source for pro-social behavior in turn was shown
to be positively linked to pro-environmental intentions (Pfattcheicher et al., 2016). In
line with this, pro-social or altruistic values have shown to have a weak but
consistently positive influence on different environmental beliefs and behaviors (de
Groot and Steg, 2008; Steg et al., 2014) and were identified as an important factor for
people’s motivation to adopt lower-carbon lifestyles (Howell, 2013). Therefore,
benefits of mindfulness consistent with values of benevolent behavior may generalize
from self and other to the larger animate and inanimate world we inhabit (Grossman,
Despite the recent emergence of different theoretical proposals to link mindfulness and
consumerism, as well as increased efforts to empirically investigate this nexus, the connection
of mindfulness and sustainable consumption remains a largely unresearched area. In what
follows, we present a SLR conducted to evaluate empirical evidence regarding the five above-
mentioned potential mechanisms by which mindfulness possibly influences peoples’
3. Method: Systematic Literature Review
To address the research questions, we conducted a SLR, which is a rigorous approach to
provide an overview of a research field and the results it has produced. This method has
received growing attention in past years for a number of reasons. SLRs meet the need for
orientation in light of the rapidly growing body of publications that can hardly be overlooked
by individuals anymore (Ridley, 2012). Not least there is need to base policy decisions on
syntheses of high-quality, rigorously identified, available evidence. A widely accepted
definition of a SLR refers to “a systematic, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying,
evaluating and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by
researchers, scholars and practitioners” (Fink, 2009: 3). Importantly, a SLR from this
perspective is not simply an introductory component of a research study, but rather, “in itself
a research study, addressing research questions and using the literature as data to be coded,
analyzed and synthesized to reach overall conclusions” (Ridley, 2012: 190).
Our main intention in carrying out a SLR is to contribute to the formation of a broader
research agenda by conveying a meta-perspective on the field. In this perspective, we do not
only seek to explore what has been found out in existing empirical studies, but just as much
how the nexus of mindfulness and sustainable consumption has been researched
methodologically. SLR methodology is an approach to serve this purpose. While SLRs have
traditionally been used to aggregate and synthesize quantitative and qualitative data (which
was and is indeed the primary application of SLR), they have recently been also employed to
identify and reflect on trends in research fields (see e.g. Ceulemans, Molderez and Van
Liedekerke, 2015; Barth and Rieckmann, 2016).
3.1 Data collection
Data was collected in three steps using different sources in each step: database, and
supplementary and conclusive search. Each step of data collection was embedded in a specific
stage of the iterative process of screening publications (see Fig. 1). In order to identify recent
and quality-checked research into mindfulness and sustainable consumption, our SLR focused
on peer-reviewed journal articles and PhD dissertations as two publications forms that convey
recent state-of-the-art research.
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were included in the preliminary sample: the publication had to be informed by an elaborated
understanding of mindfulness and focused on at least one aspect of sustainable consumption.
With regard to the understanding of mindfulness, the criterion was met when mindfulness was
not just considered in terms of cognitive complexity (e.g. Langer and Moldoveanu , 2000) but
more comprehensively underpinned by the Buddhist meditative tradition outlined before in
section 2 of this paper. With regard to aspects of sustainable consumption, the criterion was
met when the research presented focused on at least a particular stage of consumption (e.g.
disposal) and contextualized it in its impacts on sustainable development (e.g. ecological
impacts). The titles and abstracts of all 1,137 publications of the initial sample were screened
by two independent researchers (research assistants). In case of disagreement between the two
independent raters, a third rater (senior researcher) decided on a final rating. The publications
passing the initial selection stage of practical screening formed the preliminary sample
In a second selection stage, all publications of the preliminary sample then entered in-depth
screening. Here, the full texts of all publications were checked against the inclusion/exclusion
criteria by two independent raters (senior researchers), with a third rater (senior researcher)
deciding in case of disagreement. The publications passing the second selection stage of in-
depth screening entered the pre-final sample. All publications of the pre-final sample were
then also used to identify further relevant publications through supplementary, namely bread
crumbing, pearl growing and hand searches. In a bread crumb search, the reference section of
a publication is screened for further eligible publications. In a pearl growing search, citation
reference databases are used to identify further publications that are citing a paper that has
already been identified as relevant. In a hand search, documents from selected sources such as
academic journals or professional organizations that focus explicitly on the topic under
investigation are scanned for relevant sources (e.g. newsletters, table of contents). Just like the
publications identified through database searches, all additional publications identified
through bread crumbing (N = 14), pearl growing (N = 242), and hand searches (N = 2)
entered the initial sample and then underwent the standard procedure, i.e. practical screening.
Raters also controlled for duplicates to ensure that no publication was added and rated twice.
From the 258 publications identified through supplementary search, 12 publications entered
the preliminary sample.
In the last step of conclusive search, the final sample (n= 7) composed based on the database,
bread crumbing, pearl growing and hand searches was submitted for a review to two senior
experts in the field, one from the field of sustainability science and one from the field of
mindfulness research, asking them to complement the selection with relevant publications not
included yet. The expert review identified no further publications that had not been previously
included already. The composition of the different samples by source and search step is
shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Composition of samples by sources and steps
Search Step Source Sample
Initial Preliminary Final
Database SCOPUS 540 17 6
ProQuest 339 3 1
Supplementary Hand Search 2 2 0
Bread Crumbing 14 1 0
Pearl Growing 242 9 0
Conclusive Expert Review 0 0 0
TOTAL 1137 32 7
3.2 Data analysis
Data on methodological approaches (RQ 2) and empirical findings (RQ 3) was extracted from
the publication in the final sample. In the data extraction step we followed the procedure
suggested by Fink (2009) that aims to ensure uniform data collection. An abstraction form
was developed to identify specific methodological approaches (RQ 2) according to four
categories (see left column in Table 2): research questions asked, definition and
operationalization of mindfulness and sustainable consumption as well as sample and study
design for the quantitative studies, and analytical approach, data collection and interpretation
for the qualitative studies (see Fink 2009). A comprehensive account of the categories is
presented in Tables 3 (quantitative) and 4 (qualitative) studies.Additional categories for
mixed-methods were: objectives/rationale pursued by mixing methods, levels and weight of
integration, sequence, and relation of concepts studied to methods applied (Johnson,
Onwuegbuzie and Turner, 2007; Brake, 2010; Bergman, 2010). These categories however
were not applied and are not reported in what follows due to the absence of studies in the final
sample using mixed methods.
Each publication was then also screened for empirical findings (RQ 3). This was informed by
our previous analysis of the conceptual discussion of the potentials of mindfulness to promote
sustainable consumption (see section 2.2). The publications in the final sample were,
therefore, analyzed for findings relating the four identified potentials of mindfulness for SCR
postulated in the conceptual literature (see right column in Table 2, as well as Table 5 for an
overview). In addition to these pre-defined categories, we also screened the publications for
additional findings relevant to our research questions. The procedure of data collection in the
SLR methodology used in our study corresponds to content analysis (using deductive coding)
insofar as it involves the definition of categories and a coding process of relevant text
passages matching these categories. Data extraction and analysis were performed by senior
researchers with expertise in quantitative and qualitative research.
Table 2: Criteria guiding data extraction and analysis of final sample
Methodological Approaches Empirical Findings
(1) What research questions are addressed?
(2) How is mindfulness understood and
(3) How is sustainable consumption
understood and measured?
(4) How is the study designed with regards
to methods and sample?
Does mindfulness …
(1) … disrupt routines?
(2) … promote more congruence with regard
to the attitude-behavior gap?
(3) … promote non-materialistic values and
(4) … promote pro-social behavior?
The first important result of our review is that only seven publications met our criteria and
represent empirical studies on the nexus between mindfulness and sustainable consumption
(see RQ 1). Of these seven publications (see Table 3 and Table 4), five use an exclusively
quantitative approach (publication 1-5), one employs an exclusively qualitative approach
(publication 7) and one publication uses both quantitative and qualitative approaches
(publication 6). However, it is a rather cumulative than integrative work, which is why, for
this analysis, each of these three studies presented in publication 6 will be analyzed separately
(referring to as 6a, 6b and 6c, see Tables 2 and 3) and the publication will not be considered
as a mixed-method study. We will present our findings with regard to methodological
approaches and empirical results in two separate sections.
4.1 Methodological approaches
This section presents the results of our analysis of how the studies were conducted (RQ 2). It
is structured according to the criteria used in the data extraction as outlined in Table 2.
Table 3: Overview of methodological approaches taken by quantitative studies within the final sample
No Reference Research Question Sample (n) Study design Mindfulness Sustainable consumption
(item n) Construct Operationalization
1 Brown and
Can people live so as to
promote both personal
and planetary wellbeing?
Can mindfulness explain
MAAS (15) Ecologically
ERB (54: Food ,
2 Amel et al.,
Is mindfulness toward
internal and external
FFMQ, 2 facets:
AWA (8) and OBS (8)
Green scale (1) *
3a Barbaro and
Does connectedness to
nature indirectly affect
the relationship between
mindfulness and pro-
All five facets
short version of the
PEB scale (17)
4 Jacob et al.,
Is there a significant
(4): mind slowing down,
stillness, ability to see
becoming attached to
them, watch emotions
without being carried
away by them*
experiences rather relate
to mindfulness or church
(7): Sense of wonder,
union with nature, peace
of mind, wholeness, joy,
living in the present
moment being accepted
in the universe*
Back to the land
High and Low tech
Do associations exist
between measured levels
of mindfulness and
measures connected to
based on Kabat-
All five facets a) Pro social and
a) Ethical and
compulsive buying, and
b) CBS Scale (11)
6b What do individuals
experience and what do
they notice regarding
6c From such individuals
what can be concluded
mechanisms by which
Scales abbreviation used:
MAAS: Mindful Attention and Awareness scale (Brown and Ryan, 2003), similar to AWA
FFMQ: Five Facet mindfulness Questionnaire (Baer et al., 2006): all five facets: Nonreactivity, Acting with Awareness (AWA), Observing
(OBS), Describing, Nonjudgment
EFQ: Ecological Footprint Questionnaire (Dholakia and Wackernagel, 1999)
PEB: Pro Environmental Behavior Scale (Whitmarsh and O'Neill, 2010)
CBS: Compulsive Buying Scale (d'Astous et al., 1990)
* Ad hoc development of the publication’s author(s)
Table 4: Overview of methodological approaches taken by qualitative studies within the final sample
No Reference Research Question Sample (n) Mindfulness
based on data
What do individuals learning
mindfulness experience, and what
do they notice regarding their
consumption behavior and in
based on Kabat-
perspectives – focus
on pro-social, pro-
6c If compulsive buyers are learning
mindfulness, what do they
experience? Are measureable
levels of factors associated with
mindfulness, compulsive buying,
psychological wellbeing, sense of
self, or shopping outcomes
altering in such individuals?
7 Essen and
How do young adults use their
lived bodily experience of
organic food as the starting point
for lifestyle exploration? How do
they use these experiences as a
life strategy for well-being and
35 years) (n=10)
Non specified use
of the term “organic
(1) Research questions
Two publications (1 and 4) looked at the role of aspects of mindfulness in the apparent
tension between subjective well-being, on the one hand, and ecologically
responsible/sustainable behavior, on the other. They tested whether mindfulness served as a
common source of, or as a possible link between, subjective wellbeing and ecological
responsible behavior, respectively. Publication 6 went a step further by assuming that
mindfulness improves wellbeing. This increased wellbeing, so the overarching hypothesis,
might then reduce reliance on consumption behavior to fulfill affective or symbolic needs,
often expressed in compulsive consumption behaviors. Publication 6 posed 5 research
questions that were to be answered in 3 partly independent studies. Due to the limitations of
our paper’s scope, the analysis has been confined to discuss only the main aspects of these
studies. Publication 1 additionally considered the role of non-materialistic values such as
relationships, personal growth and community feeling. Publication 2 considered mindfulness
as a direct precondition for sustainable behavior, testing the idea that as long as behaviors are
not the norm or automated default option, mindfulness might support conscious choices for
the deviating, here: sustainable behavioral option. Publication 3 followed up on a mediation
hypothesis that was proposed in an ad-hoc manner in publication 2: the hypothesis that the
apparent link between mindfulness and sustainable consumption behavior might rest on a
mediating positive effect of increased connection with or sense of belonging to nature.
Publication 5, the earliest one, is rooted in the conceptual background of deep ecology and
followed a reverse logic. The study investigated mindfulness experiences as a consequence
rather than a precondition for a sustainable lifestyle and looked at the role of feeling as a part
of nature within this context. This approach is similar to the premise of publication 7 which
also took a sustainable lifestyle choice (eating organic food) as the starting point and looked at
possible effects on the development of mindful eating habits and, more generally, effects on
In six of the seven publications, two covariates played a recurring role, namely subjective
well-being, as a co-outcome or mediator of mindfulness and sustainable behavior (1, 4, 6 and
7), and connectedness to / being part of nature (3 and 5), as a possible mediator between
mindfulness and sustainable lifestyles.
(2) Understanding and measurement of mindfulness
Publications 1 and 2 used very similar concepts of mindfulness defined as a “quality of
consciousness that denotes a receptive attention to and awareness of ongoing internal states
and behavior” (publication 1, cf. Brown and Ryan, 2003) or, very similarly, as the capacity of
self-regulating attention and the skill of observing and accepting sensations, thoughts or
emotions as they occur (publication 3,cf. Bishop et al., 2004). Publication 3 elaborated very
little on the underpinning concept of mindfulness. Instead, it focused on the empirical
question proposed in publication 2. Publication 6 expanded thoroughly on the concept of
mindfulness and its Buddhist origin concluding with Kabat-Zinn’s (2003: 145) definition of
mindfulness, as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the
present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience”.
In order to operationalize mindfulness, the four publications used two different, but
conceptually overlapping psychometrically validated instruments, the MAAS (Mindful
Attention Awareness Scale, Brown and Ryan, 2003), and the FFMQ (Five Facets Mindfulness
Questionnaire, Baer et al., 2006), or subscales of the latter. The FFMQ has been constructed
as a combination of various earlier scales, including the MAAS, which shares a wide
conceptual and item overlap with the third of the five subscales:
1. Non-reactivity to inner experience
2. Observing sensations
3. Acting with awareness (similar to the MAAS scale)
4. Describing /labeling with words
5. Nonjudging of experience
Whereas only publication 3 used the complete FFMQ scale including all five facets (39
items), publication 2 used only the subscales Observing sensations (8 items) and Acting with
awareness (8 items), and publication 1 the complete MAAS (15 items).
Although publication 5 made use of a very similar concept of mindfulness based on the
definition of Buddhist monk Hanh (1995: 204) “as the energy to be here and witness deeply
everything that happens in the present moment, aware of what is going on within and
without”, it derived a different set of seven “basic mindfulness experiences”: sense of wonder,
union with nature, peace of mind, wholeness, joy, living in the present moment and being
accepted in the universe.
Publication 4 focused on possible outcomes of mindfulness meditation instead of mindfulness
as a dispositional personal difference and operationalized those as the experience of “mind
slowing down”, “stillness”, “ability to see thoughts without being attached to them” and
“watch emotions with being carried away by them”. The latter two abilities resemble the first
facet “non-reactivity” of the FFMQ, whereas the former two aspects are unrepresented by the
In general, it is noteworthy that all items used in the MAAS and most of the FFMQ “acting
with awareness” (AWA) are formulated negatively as e.g. “I rush through activities without
being really attentive to them” as opposed to the positively formulated meditation outcomes
how often respondents experienced “feeling of stillness”. Thus, the MAAS and AWA actually
are self-rating scales of perceived inattentiveness to everyday experience, which is strongly
correlated with a measure of cognitive errors, but often only weakly related to other
mindfulness inventory measures (Grossman, 2011; Grossman and van Dam, 2011).
Nevertheless, the rationale for the MAAS is based upon aspects of the Buddhist
understanding of mindfulness (Brown and Ryan, 2003), and variations of attention are
consistently considered aspects of mindfulness. The concept of “Mindful eating” used in
publication 7 deviates from the aforementioned concepts, although is also loosely based on
Kabat-Zinn’s definition, concentrating on the experience and sensitivity to nutrition-related
body sensations. Thus, it is essential to keep in mind that the individual investigations often
measure quite different characteristics that are purported to reflect the phenomenon of
“mindfulness”, which is, indeed, complex and multifaceted.
(3) Understanding and measurement of sustainable consumption
Publications 1, 3 and 4 made use of very similar concepts of sustainable consumption, which
they call Ecologically Responsible Behavior (ERB), Pro-environmental Behavior (PEB) and
Environmentally Sustainable behavior (ESB). They all aimed at the measurement of
behaviors that seek to harm the environment as little as possible in everyday life and thus
measured an intention-based set of behaviors. Whereas publications 3 and 4 measured similar
intentional behaviors to an comparable extent (publication 3: 11 items on typical domains
such as recycling, choice of eco-friendly household products and sustainable nutrition;
publication 4: 17 items including some of the former, plus transport and water/energy use
items), publication 1 went beyond this in trying to additionally capture a part of real impact
human behavior can have on its environment. The authors measured an overall score on ERB
containing an 12-item ecological footprint questionnaire (Dholakia and Wackernagel, 1999),
focusing on items of the three behavioral spheres food, transport and housing with the highest
ecological impact, as well as a 54-item self-constructed scale based on a wide range of
intentional behaviors including organic food consumption, leisure time activities, frugal
consumption patterns, travel choices, recycling habits, waste reduction, and energy and water
conservation. In marked contrast to this extensive assessment of ecological behavior,
publication 2 employed a single-item assessment of “greenness” (authors’ original wording),
where respondents were asked to assess how “green” they perceived themselves to be on 8-
point Likert-type scale, ranging from “not green” (never choosing the most sustainable
option) to “dark green” (always choosing the most sustainable option regardless of cost in
time, money, convenience or personal preference).
Publication 6 provided a detailed account of the concept of sustainable consumption and the
varying perspectives taken by different disciplines before proposing a definition of “mindful
consumption”, which contains sustainability aspects, such as frugality (reduced consumption)
and consumption within a perspective of pro-social and pro-environmental factors. In order to
operationalize these concepts, the author used two quantitative measures: a short 6-item pro-
social and environmental behavior scale, loosely based on Pepper et al. (2009) and an 11-item
compulsive-buying scale by d'Astous et al. (1990), focusing on the excessive and uncontrolled
purchase of unnecessary goods.
Publication 5, with its deviating research question set in the deep ecology context of the
1990’s, conceptualized sustainable consumption as “back-to-the-land-values”, which include
concepts such as foregoing high-tech consumption (computer, CDs or video cameras), soft
technology (using human power instead of mechanical or electrical power, e.g. walking
instead of driving) and a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity (e.g. possessing fewer things,
reducing energy consumption).
The starting point of publication 7 was the sustainable behavior of organic food consumption.
The authors, however, neither went into detail about the specific definition they applied nor
about a general definition or explanation of sustainable consumption.
(4) Study design, methods and samples
Study Design and Method: Four of the five quantitative publications and one sub-study of
publication 6 employed a cross-sectional design and computed correlation or regression
analyses with sum scores derived by the varying quantitative scales described above. With the
exception of publication 1 that used structural equation modeling (also based on sum scores
for partial scales instead of single items), the publications treated the constructs as manifest
ones, using simple sum scores of either overall measures or individual subscales to compute
correlations or regressions. Only studies 6b and 6c evaluated the effects of meditation practice
with a quasi-experimental pre-post design (Reichardt, 2009).
Publication 7 is based on 10 semi-structured interviews preselected from a larger sample of
interviews that followed a descriptive phenomenological approach. Sub-studies 6b and 6c
employed a mixed methods approach to enable triangulation. The researcher took a weak
social constructionist epistemology, which allowed the use of multiple methodological
approaches to fit the complex research design (multiple research questions - multiple studies
with different methods and different analytical tools).
Samples: In only two of the six quantitative publications the research question is approached
using a sample derived from the general population. Most studies made use of pre-selected
samples with a sustainability-related selection criteria (ecology-fair visitors, simple lifestylers,
back-to-landers, organic food consumers, environmental activists or compulsive buyers). Two
correlational studies (publication 4 and 6a) made use of samples with meditation experience,
and another study employed a sample that was pre-selected with regards to both research
constructs, mindfulness and sustainability (publication 4: Buddhist peace fellow members
with an emphasis on sustainability). No study made use of a representative sample.
4.2 Empirical results
This section presents our analysis of the findings that the studies report. It is structured
according to the previously mentioned four potential mechanisms by which mindfulness has
been proposed to promote sustainable consumption (see Table 2). Results related to other
possible mechanisms regarding the connection between mindfulness and sustainable
consumption were not identified. Table 5 provides an overview of the empirical results
identified in the review.
(1) Disruption of routines
Publication 2 found a positive relationship (β = 0.37) between the mindfulness facet ‘acting
with awareness’ (AWA) and the ’greenness’ of people. Although non-sustainable routines
were not explicitly tested in the article, the authors provided the interpretation that increased
attentiveness helps individuals to more consciously consider behavioral options, instead of
acting by societal default (which is often not sustainable).
Publication 6a found a modest relationship of AWA with compulsive buying only, but not
with pro-environmental behavior. Correlations of the overall FFMQ measure with compulsive
buying (r= -.218) and environmental behavior (r=. 166) were small. The positive effect of
Table 5. Quantitative and qualitative results in the categories of identified potentials of mindfulness for sustainable consumption
No Disruption of routines Congruence (with regard to
the attitude-behavior gap) Non-materialistic values and
wellbeing Pro-social behavior
1 - -
Mindfulness and intrinsic values
are seen as joint predictors for
behavior and subjective wellbeing
2 Mindfulness helps to consider
behavioral option consciously (discussed, but not measured) -
3 - -
connectedness to nature, this in
turn enhances pro environmental
4 - -
Environmentally sustainable and
mindfulness meditation seen as
two related predictors of subjective
5 - -
Mindfulness is one expression of
downshifting and simple back-to-
Mindfulness negatively related to
material values and positively
related to life satisfaction -
Mindfulness leads to less
Greater likelihood to engage in
behavior more in line with their
Strengthening of values caring for
the wider ecological and social
worlds in consumption decisions.
Negative effects on materialistic
increased overall awareness as
well as specifically with one´s own
body and compulsive buying
Rise in reported empathy
and moral concern for
others, beyond the close
social circles of participants
Mindful eating broadened
thought-action repertoire and
Increase in well-being as well as
vitality and resilience
Rise in perceived self-
reduced inattention on compulsive buying behaviors could be regarded as one instance of
interrupting a highly habitualized ‘compulsive’ behavior.
The overarching goal of publication 6 (with sub-studies a, b and c) was to explore the
relationship between mindfulness and consumption. The study finds mindfulness to be
associated with increased overall awareness as well as specifically related to one´s own body
awareness and to compulsive buying-related behavior. Key to breaking habitual behavior (in
study 6b and 6c) was the increasing sense of awareness through mindfulness training, which
in turn enabled participants to make a choice regarding their response to routine behavior and
to compulsive buying impulses (study 6c). Concerning the group of compulsive buyers, the
author also stated that the measured rise in emotion-regulation abilities, alongside an
increased emotional wellbeing, potentially reduced the affect-related shopping habits.
(2) Congruence (with regard to the attitude-behavior gap)
None of the quantitative studies framed their research as an explicit investigation of the
attitude-behavior gap, although publication 2 discussed this possibility without having
included an explicit attitude measure.
In publication 6, even though the attitude-behavior-gap is also not explicitly examined, study
participants, who were compulsive shoppers, reported an increase in perceived behavioral
control, grounded in a growing awareness of their habitual responses. They also demonstrated
a greater likelihood to follow through with their plans concerning shopping behavior, acting
more in line with their attitudes. The author relates those results partly to a “lowered
discrepancy between actual and ideal selves” through increased mindfulness levels (p.376).
Similarly, publication 7 stated that study participants who apply mindfulness-oriented
practices to their eating behavior report a sense of “bodily intelligence with moment-to-
moment awareness” (p. 6). Although no explicit reference was made to greater coherence
between attitudes and behaviors, the authors suggested that an effect may exist toward
synchronizing attitudes and behaviors when they reported how increased attention to the
everyday experience of mindfully consuming food enriched the participants’ “sphere of lived
reality” (ibid.) and broadened their “thought-action repertoire” (ibid.), mainly by embodying
practices and decoupling them from cognitive processes.
(3) Non-materialistic values and wellbeing
Five of the six quantitative publications drew explicitly on the relationships between
mindfulness, (non-material) values and subjective wellbeing. In publication 1, the positive
relationship between mindfulness-related attentiveness (MAAS) and pro-environmental
behavior (β = 0.22) was considered as one path of a model that conceived of inattentiveness
and non-material values as joint predictors for the parallel outcomes of environmental
behavior and subjective wellbeing. Publication 3 found modest, but significant, relationships
in two studies (β =0.19 and β =0.30) between mindfulness (FFMQ) and pro-environmental
behavior (PEB). Additionally, it could show a strong mediation effect of connectedness to
nature, substantially reducing the weight of direct paths between mindfulness and pro-
environmental behavior in both studies, in study 2 to nonsignificance. Connectedness to
nature, as an attitude measure with an emotional component, is different from, but related to
biospheric values, where the protection of nature or the prevention of pollution are seen as
guiding principles in life. Publication 4 investigated mindfulness meditation and sustainable
behaviors as joint predictors for subjective wellbeing. It reported small positive correlations of
the two concepts (r= 0.15 for household consumption and r= 0.19 for food choices).
Publication 5 used different back-to-the-land values (simplicity, technology consumption,
homestead production) to predict Buddhist mindfulness values and also reported relatively
low weights (β = 0.14- 0.22). The importance of feeling part of nature stood out here as the
strongest predictor for mindfulness values (β =0.34, partly due to a conceptual confound, see
below). Adding to the effects on compulsive and sustainable buying, the quantitative study of
publication 6 reported a small negative effect of mindfulness on material values (r=- 0.18) and
a small positive effect on life satisfaction (r= 0.28). In its qualitative parts, mindfulness was
found to be associated with a clearer sense of identity and a strengthening of values
concerning care for the wider ecological and social worlds in consumption decisions.
Publication 7 reported how young adults with a preference for organic food have used
mindfulness practices and experiences related to their consumption of food to help them
increase their well-being, vitality and resilience through “transcending to more enduring and
positive emotional states” (p.6). Further improvements were reported with respect to the
participants’ ability to manage stress and to set boundaries when acting mindfully in their
relationship with food. Publication 6 reported improved psychological well-being and self-
regulation (in compulsive buyers) after a mindfulness intervention, alongside improvements
in self-esteem and self-efficacy. It also found mindfulness to be negatively related to both
materialistic values and compulsive buying tendencies. Participants showed to have widened
their perspectives of how to gain positive affect without turning to shopping, making it more
likely for them to choose to engage in alternative activities.
(4) Pro-social behavior
Two qualitative studies, yet none of the quantitative publications referred to self-compassion,
pro-social or altruistic behaviors. Publication 7 reported that mindfulness practices have
contributed to an increase in perceived self-compassion as well as in the “sense of agency”
(p.6) among young adults with a preference for organic food. Another result of publication 6
was that a rise in self-focused awareness was accompanied by increased self-reported
empathy and moral concern for others, beyond the close social circles of participants.
The discussion of the results of the literature review is divided in two parts, one on
methodological issues and one on the results reported in the studies. For each part,
recommendations for future research are provided. We conclude this section by discussing
limitations of the review approach used in this SLR and by providing recommendations for
future research in the field.
5.1 Discussion of methodological approaches
We begin by a critical appraisal of the quality of the quantitative and qualitative publications.
5.1.1 Quantitative studies
Concerning the quantitative studies, four outstanding methodological issues (corresponding to
the analysis categories in the result section) will be discussed. (1) measurement instruments
and aggregation level (relating to categories 2 and 3 in section 5.2), (2) designs & methods
and (3) sampling techniques (category 4 in section 5.2) as well as (4) investigated variables
(based on the research questions, category 1 in section 5.2). After discussing each
methodological issue, we give recommendations for future research.
(1) Measurement instruments and aggregation level
The instruments used to assess both constructs of interest, mindfulness and sustainable
consumption, vary considerably not only in scope, but also in focus. Turning first to
mindfulness, the length of instruments alone illustrates the variety of assessment methods,
ranging from 4 to 39-items scales. Even the two validated instruments employed differ
significantly in scope and level of aggregation (1 vs. 5 facets with a higher-order general
factor), and they have been both criticized for their construct validity (the MAAS for being too
narrow in scope; the FFMQ including the “describing” subcale that is not unanimously
considered a factor of mindfulness and the “observing” subscale not generalizable across
different populations; for a critique, including other problematic aspects, see Grossman, 2011;
Grossman & Van Dam, 2011). The set of mindfulness experiences used in publications 4 and
5 are a limited selection of items picked by the investigators that lack psychometric validation
and are hardly comparable to the operationalizations used in publications 1-3, despite some
conceptual overlap in face validity. Publication 5 uses items that may be considered a
consequence rather than a constituent of mindfulness and do not appear in any other
psychometric scale (e.g. “feeling of joy”, “sense of wonder”) or are confounded with other
constructs (e.g. “sense of union with nature” vs. “importance of being part of nature”), which
could lead to tautological explanation of results.
The same observation holds true for the assessment of sustainable consumption. The variety
in scope is even more remarkable (1-item vs. 66-items) with a complete lack of validated
instruments. The only index of psychometric quality reported is Cronbach´s α. None of the
publications reviewed explicitly discusses conceptual problems involved in assessing
sustainable consumer behavior (e.g. assessing intention-based behavioral measures vs.
impact-based ones) (Geiger, Fischer and Schrader, 2017). Some studies aggregate a few
behaviors within a single domain (e.g. recycling), whereas others compute general measures
over a range of different domains (e.g. purchase choices, housing, nutrition, transport).
Rationale for selection of particular behavioral items is rarely provided, as if face validity of
an item would be sufficient for its inclusion in a scale. Accordingly, most publications
exhaust themselves in prototypical behaviors, such as purchase of eco-friendly household
products, recycling or organic food choices (Watson et al., 2013), that are by no means the
most relevant ones ecologically. Well-known high-impact ecological behaviors, i.e. housing
style, eating meat and frequency of flights, are only considered in publication 1. Even in this
most comprehensive scale, simple sum scores are used and items are not weighted according
to their actual ecological or social impact. Also no further information on psychometric
quality (as e.g. item loadings on general or sub factors, or over all fit measures) are given.
Across all instruments used for the assessment of sustainable consumption, a strong bias for
ecological facets of sustainability can be observed, with socio-economical aspects being
largely marginalized and neglected.
Recommendation: For the consolidation of research findings, it is indispensable to replicate
results with validated psychometric scales that adhere to a current scientific consensus of all
concepts in question and were constructed according to methodological quality criteria. When
estimating aspects of mindfulness, the most prominently used FFMQ or the newly developed
CHIME Scale (Bergomi et al., 2013; Bergomi et al., 2014), each with a number of subscales,
represent options (the MAAS is essentially made redundant by the FFMQ AWA subscale). It
is important to report effects of subscales, not the overall scores and specifically to refer to the
measures with their subscale names as reflecting aspects putatively related mindfulness, not
mindfulness itself: No questionnaire scale has, to date, been empirically validated as
measuring “mindfulness,” per se (Grossman, 2008; Grossman, 2011; Grossman and van Dam,
2011). Furthermore, mindfulness subscale specification will result in a more precise analysis
than relying on some global “mindfulness” construct that may not be closely related to other
mindfulness operationalizations (Grossman and van Dam, 2011).
For sustainable consumption, a psychometric validation for the item collection used in
publication 1 or the use of the validated Rasch-based General Ecological Behavior scale by
(Kaiser and Wilson, 2004) could be options employed by future studies. In any case, the
behaviors in the scales should be validated for their objective impact on sustainability
thresholds by methods such as Environmental or Social Life Cycle Analysis based on
objective criteria (e.g. ecological footprint, greenhouse gas emission, resource consumption,
human rights, decent work conditions). Finally, the diversity and incommensurability of the
instruments employed calls for a more transparent, well-argued selection of measures that
clearly state what area of consumption, stage of consumption and sustainability impacts the
study focuses on in its assessment of individual sustainable consumption (Geiger, Fischer and
(2) Sampling techniques
The use of convenience samples from a biased population seems to be more widespread than
desirable: five of the 6 publications made use of samples with a sustainability bias, whereas
only publication 1 systematically employed this characteristic as a grouping variable. This
approach imposes substantial threats, not only to external validity of results when trying to
investigate relationship across populations. A further threat may be potential floor or ceiling
effects in the targeted behavior, as may have been the case in publication 4, with high means
and low variance in recycling habits and food choices, potentially attenuating results. What is
interesting to note is that only publications 4 and 6a actually included individuals with
mindfulness meditation experience. Given that the research interest here focuses on a
Buddhist concept of mindfulness that requires cultivation and enhancement over time by
means of meditation practice, the underrepresentation of a meditating subsample of the
population is troubling. This may be all the more problematic, since mindfulness scales seem
to be differently semantically interpreted by people with vs. without meditation experience
(Grossman and van Dam, 2011).
Recommendation: Replication studies with general population samples of all ages, socio-
economic and educational status are needed. Additional investigations into the effects of
meditation practice with neophytes and experienced practitioners are desirable (see next
(3) Design & method
All but two quantitative studies (publication 6b and 6c) used a cross-sectional, correlative
design assessing levels of mindfulness and sustainable consumption at a single point in time.
Correlational results are, of course, ambiguous as to the assumed direction of relationship.
The only two intervention studies, where changes over two or more observation points in time
were assessed, had severe methodological restraints that prevent even tentative interpretation
of results (small or unclear n, comparison of a n=9 intervention group with a n=438 general
population sample, no control group, no randomized assignment of participants, non-
significant effects not reported).
Recommendation: (Quasi-) experimental designs with a sufficient sample size (depending
upon estimated statistical power) and adequate control groups are needed with interventions
that either influence the level of mindfulness (by means of programs of meditation practice)
or the level of sustainability orientation (by means of programs informational or experiential
interventions in nature etc.) and assess potential changes in the other variable. This is essential
for evaluating causal relations between mindfulness and sustainable consumption.
(4) Investigated variables
Some of the reviewed publications made first attempts to examine possible mediating
variables, such as connectedness to nature or potential mutual outcomes such as subjective
wellbeing. Nevertheless, there is a whole array of still untested plausible mediators that bear a
hypothetical connection to both mindfulness and sustainable consumption, such as
compassion, ascription of responsibility, personal norms, health orientation or time
perspective, to name but a few (see also the discussion of potentially relevant facets in section
4). Moreover, other types of possible intervening relationships have not yet been considered,
e.g. mindfulness as a potential moderator in the attitude – behavior gap.
Recommendation: Future studies should include more potential mediators and be open to as
yet unconsidered types of roles for either of the two constructs in question, e.g. moderating
roles for other relationships.
5.1.2 Qualitative studies
The evaluation of the three qualitative studies, publications 6b and 6c and 7, is based on five
topics suggested by Fink (2009) to critically appraise the quality of the qualitative research
reported: (1) specific research questions, (2) defined and justified sample, (3) valid data
collection, (4) appropriate analytic methods, and (5) interpretations based on the data.
Additionally, where appropriate, criteria from the quantitative analysis were also considered.
The two qualitative papers name research questions. Publication 7 refers to a larger former
study with broader questions and focuses on two aspects of special interest within this broader
scope. However, those sub-questions are rather imprecise and unclear, not fully fulfilling the
criteria for specificity of research questions. Publication 6 raises one relevant overarching
question with multiple, and more precise, subsidiary questions for each of the three sub-
studies (6b/c) conducted (see Table 4 for exact wording).
The samples used were defined and justified in both cases; however, explanation and details
provided in publication 6 are more substantial and precise than the rather abridged, and
consequently not easily comprehensible, explanation given in publication 7.
Although publication 7 offers some explanation on its approach to data collection, the exact
procedure remains vague, and the interview guidelines are not available. On the other hand,
publication 6 offers a more detailed description of the development of the presented interview
guideline(s) in relation to the underlying IPA approach. This deeper level of elaboration may
partly be attributed to the differences in scope allowed with the varying publication formats
(journal article vs. dissertation).
Concerning aspects of appropriate analytical methods, publication 6 elaborates, to some
degree, upon its application of a triangulation approach and relates the methods used to a
comparative analysis. Even though the research presented in publication 7 is embedded in a
broader study, it does not report any triangulation or attempts to cross-validate results with
those from other parts of the study. The description of data analysis (see analysis chapter) and
coding of publication 7 is sound, though more elaborate and extensive in publication 6; once
again this difference between investigations may be due to constraints of the different
Interpretations are clearly based on the data in publication 6 only. The themes presented in
publication 7 are insufficiently supported by the reported data. Additionally, the authors
conception of mindfulness seems less clearly operationalized than in other studies.
Recommendations: The methodological design of publication 6 is the only one included in our
final sample that contains an intervention with pre-post-follow-up approach, as well as
employing both quantitative and qualitative methods. Similar to our evaluation of quantitative
studies, we recommend that future qualitative studies, rather than relying on cross-sectional,
correlational approaches, employ prospective methodologies to examine how changes in one
core construct (e.g. mindfulness) may influence another (e.g. consumption attitudes or
behavior). For this purpose, the use of samples without prior mindfulness-meditation
experience, ideally drawn from the general population, is also recommended for future
qualitative research. Given the exploratory and introspective nature of mindfulness
experiences, it seems fruitful to complement semi-structured with open interviews, in order to
study the complexity of causal relationships between the two concepts. Furthermore, more
prominent use should be made of qualitative methods for purposes of identifying unexpected
effects (that could inform future quantitative research hypotheses) and in order to provide
elaborated insights into the lived experiences of people influenced by variations in
mindfulness or consumption, something not possible with usual quantitative questionnaire
data. Grounding qualitative studies within a sound methodological design that allows for clear
data interpretation and the possibility of replication attempts, is a key proposition for the
further consolidation of this relatively new field of research. The integrated use of both
qualitative and quantitative methods in a mixed-method approaches using triangulation seem
potentially fruitful for providing more holistic accounts of both the experiential and the
measurable aspects of the potential relations between mindfulness and (sustainable)
5.2 Discussion of empirical results
The analysis of the studies’ results on the potential of mindfulness for SCR reveals existing
research priorities and biases. So far, existing empirical research on the mindfulness-
sustainable consumption nexus seems to have been focused on non-materialistic values and
wellbeing as central constructs, with six of seven publications addressing this potential (see
Table 5). A possible explanation for the prominent role of these constructs is that there is
already a well-established body of literature on the effects of mindfulness on subjective
wellbeing in which the emerging work on the role of consumption has been rooted. Likewise,
mindfulness has been associated with distinct lifestyle orientations, such as downsizing and
voluntary simplicity, which supports further explorations of the effects of mindfulness on
non-materialistic values and non-detachment to material possessions.
In contrast to this, the potential of mindfulness to promote pro-social behavior has been
widely neglected in the included studies, with only two out of seven reporting results in this
domain. What is surprising is that the role of mindfulness as an antidote to the mode of ‘being
on autopilot’ has been explicitly explored only in two of studies. This is particularly
remarkable because it was this characteristic feature of mindfulness that was seen to constitute
a major potential for breaking unsustainable consumption habits (as put forward by
Rosenberg, 2005). This under-explored potential mechanism thus requires more systematic
future research, particularly as one of the two studies that addressed this issue employed a
design unsuitable for its interpretation. What is also surprising is that none of the reviewed
studies employed established theoretical frameworks, like practice theory (Brand, 2010) or the
behavioral theories such as the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991), to investigate the
attitude-behavior gap. While these established theories have limitations and epistemological
incompatibilities with the concept of mindfulness, they may provide a fruitful starting point
for exploratory studies on mindfulness in SCR.
A major limiting factor is that the studies only insufficiently discuss procedural aspects,
namely the quality and nature of the mindfulness practices studied. Publication 7, for
example, does not give any information on the specific mindfulness practices that the young
adults engaged in, so the connections found remain vague and should be considered with
Overall results (small, positive relationship between different mindfulness measures and
different forms of environmental responsible behaviors) have to be interpreted with caution,
as so many different measures have been used for either concept. If looked at on the detailed
level of different mindfulness facets, results are partially contradictory (e.g. publication 2
found a medium effect for the subscale ‘acting with awareness’ and no effect for ‘observing’,
while the opposite result was obtained in study 6a). Until specific, validly assessed,
mindfulness-related measures have been replicated to demonstrate consistent effects upon
sustainable behaviors, the existence of a stable direct relationship between the two concepts
The discussion of the apparent imbalances in the empirical investigation into the potential
benefits of mindfulness for SCR call for intensified and more systematic future research
efforts, in particular with regard to the possibilities that mindfulness may disrupt routines,
improve congruence by reducing the attitude-behavior gap and/or promote pro-social
behavior. Additionally, it must be acknowledged that all studies convey a somewhat
individualistic focus on the connection between mindfulness and consumption. While this is
plausible given the interest in advancing a better understanding of how people experience
mindfulness and relate it to their everyday consumption behaviors, it at the same time lacks a
more social and cultural dimension of consumption (as a social practice, see Giddens, 2008).
Another possible link between mindfulness and sustainable consumption could relate to the
potential of mindfulness to instill changes at the collective level, e.g. by renegotiating shared
conceptions of what ‘normal’ or ‘conventional’ standards are in current consumption practices
and changing respective structures (Power and Mont, 2010). This topic represents a new field
for future research.
5.3 Limitations of the review approach
The use of SLR methodology in this study has some limitations that need to be considered.
Firstly, our search strategy has certain limitations: It was restricted to two selected databases
and employed an extensive but not comprehensive search string. We may, therefore, have
missed empirical studies dealing with mindfulness and sustainable consumption using
different terminology and publication media. Secondly, the broad scope of our review resulted
in a large proportion of publications that entered the initial sample to be irrelevant for the
scope of this review. This produced a dropout rate of more than 97% (from initial to
preliminary sample) or even 99% (from initial to final sample). While high dropout rates and
small sample sizes of about a dozen publications or less are not uncommon for SLRs in the
field of empirical mindfulness studies (see e.g. Hwang and Kearney, 2014; Souza et al.,
2015), it seems advisable for future review studies in this field to revise the search strings
used in this exploratory study in order to increase efficiency. Thirdly, this study emerged from
the aspiration to substantiate the conceptually postulated potential mechanisms of mindfulness
for SCR by means of a systematic investigation of the empirical evidence. Consequently, the
analysis was informed by the prior identification of such postulated potentials. While we
consider this a legitimate research interest and a valid approach, it would have, nevertheless,
been possible to apply a more open approach and identify themes more inductively in the final
sample of publications. Future review studies using such a more qualitative approach might
provide a fruitful comparison to our work grounded in theoretically postulated potential
mechanisms of mindfulness.
5.4 Recommendations for future research
A number of implications can be derived from the findings of this review to provide
recommendations for future research in the field (see Fig. 2). In a methodological perspective,
the review revealed a number of caveats that imply that the results reported require careful
evaluation. Taking into account that mindfulness is a competence to be developed slowly over
time, strong effects on sustainable consumption are only to be expected over the course of
months or even years, ranges of time untested in any of the reviewed studies. Not only are
long-term studies necessary, but the amount of rigorous research at the nexus of mindfulness
and SCB, in general, must increase in order to determine whether mindfulness intervention
programs could be of benefit in this domain. Intervention designs must comprise longitudinal
assessments of shorter- and longer-term mindfulness practice, because cross-sectional
correlation analyses are subject to numerous kinds of biases (e.g. unsubstantiated assumptions
about direction of causality). Another urgent issue is the development and use of validated
assessment instruments so that research from different studies can be compared and
integrated. Mindfulness remains a rather diffuse concept in the empirical literature. In light of
this, it is essential that validated subscale measures associated with mindfulness are
specifically reported, instead of summary measures with questionable content validity.
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significance for understanding how mindfulness could contribute to transformations in
attitudes and behavior related to sustainable consumption.
Additionally, studying and promoting mindfulness solely as a facilitator of individual
behavioral changes towards sustainable consumption run the risk of relegating responsibility
primarily onto the individual as consumer in an unreflected way (Henkel and Andersen,
2015). In light of these caveats of existing studies found in this review, future research on the
nexus of mindfulness and sustainable consumption is needed to convey a broader perspective
on both the individual and the collective dimensions of mindfulness in relation to sustainable
This SLR relating mindfulness and sustainable consumption shows preliminary evidence for
characteristics associated with mindfulness to be subtly, but consistently, correlated with
measures of individual sustainable consumption behavior. Most of the results obtained with
cross-sectional studies revealed small, but stable, effects over a range of different
sustainability behaviors. The most comprehensively researched potential role of mindfulness
is its capacity to reduce materialistic values and promote wellbeing, for which a number of
studies report evidence. Other possible influences of mindfulness, e.g. in terms of its
hypothesized functions as a disruptor of routines, promoter of pro-social behavior and reducer
of the attitude-behavior-gap were only addressed by single studies. However, the results
tentatively suggest positive associations here, too, although also small in magnitude. Thus,
researchers in sustainable consumption should feel encouraged by this study further to
investigate facets of mindfulness as potential facilitators of sustainable consumption behavior.
Our findings, however, also indicate the need for more sophisticated and rigorous qualitative,
quantitative and mixed-methods research approaches that use validated instruments, and
longitudinal and intervention designs, as well as more diverse population samples.
The present work is funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) in
the project BiNKA (Education for Sustainable Consumption through Mindfulness Training)
under grants 01UT1416 and 01UT1416B. The authors would like to thank Laura Ditges,
Angelika Haaser, Lena Kaupmann and Teresa Ruckelshauß for their support in data
preparation and processing.
In SCOPUS, the search string used was: TITLE-ABS-KEY ( mindful* AND (sustainab* OR
environment* OR ecologic* OR ethic* OR green* OR natur* ) AND ( consum* OR behavio*
OR lifestyle* OR shopping OR purchas* OR buy* OR sufficien* OR ( needs AND satisf* )
OR eating OR recycling OR cloth* OR textile* OR food ) ).
In ProQuest, the search string used was: ALL ( mindful* AND ( ( sustainab* OR environment* OR
ecologic* OR ethic* OR green* OR natur* ) AND ( consum* OR behavio* OR lifestyle* OR
shopping OR purchas* OR buy* OR sufficien* OR ( needs AND satisf* ) OR eating OR
recycling OR cloth* OR textile* OR food ) )
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