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Measuring Young Consumers’ Sustainable Consumption
Behavior: Development and Validation of the YCSCB Scale
Daniel Fischer1*, Tina Böhme2, Sonja M. Geiger2
1 Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Institute for Environmental & Sustainability Communication (INFU),
Scharnhorststr. 1, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany; firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Technische Universität Berlin, Institute for Vocational Education and Work Studies, Marchstraße 23, 10587
* corresponding author
Promoting sustainable consumption among young consumers has become a key priority on
the research agenda in such different fields as education for sustainable development,
environmental psychology, and consumer policy. Progress in this field has been hampered by
a lack of sophisticated research instruments capable of measuring consumption behaviors that
are relevant both in terms of their sustainability impacts and their suitability for teenagers.
This study addresses this research gap and presents a scale for young consumers’ sustainable
consumption behaviors (YCSCB) in the areas of food and clothing.
The scale was developed in a two-step, mixed-methods approach. In an initial qualitative
interview study, the actual behaviors of theoretically selected young consumers (n=8) were
identified with regard to acquiring, using, and disposing of consumer goods in the areas of
food and clothing. The YCSCB scale was constructed using the findings of this qualitative
study and then validated in a subsequent quantitative study (n=155).
The YCSCB scale is a valid and reliable scale to measure young consumers’ sustainable
consumption behavior in the areas of food (n=14 items) and clothing (n=13 items).
The findings of this research provide a twofold contribution to advancing research on young
consumers’ sustainable consumption behaviors. Firstly, it presents a consolidated scale that is
explicitly constructed for teenagers and their consumption contexts. Secondly, it proposes a
heuristic for developing more sophisticated measurements of SCB among young consumers
that would allow comparison between studies, is focused on behaviors (instead of
confounding behaviors with intentions, attitudes or values), and is impact-oriented in terms of
sustainable consumption; food; clothing; consumer behavior; measure; teenagers
Consumption is now recognized as a key driver of unsustainable development. The urgent
need to promote more sustainable consumption behaviors has been prominently reaffirmed in
the post-2015 agenda laid out by the United Nations (2015) in the Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs), where it features as a distinct goal (SDG 12). In response to the question how
consumers can be motivated to reorient their consumption practices towards more sustainable
ones (Jackson, 2005), sustainable consumption research has grown rapidly as a scholarly field
(Liu et al., 2017; Reisch and Thøgersen, 2015). Young consumers are considered a key target
group by researchers, policy-makers, and educators alike, as it is deemed crucial to intervene
in the formation and routinization of mainstream unsustainable consumption practices and
patterns (Fien et al., 2008; Heiss and Marras, 2009). There are several reasons discussed in the
literature suggesting that this group is of particular relevance for sustainable consumption
researchers. Teenagers are at a reflective stage of consumer socialization, where advanced
decision-making strategies are evolving and a susceptibility to developing materialistic
tendencies exists (Roedder John, 2008). Current findings suggest that the phase of
adolescence (i.e. between 14 and 17) is clearly associated with a rapidly declining interest in
environmental and sustainability issues, as compared to younger and older age groups (Olsson
and Gericke, 2015). In addition to this, teenagers are approaching the critical period of leaving
their family household and taking over an increased or even full responsibility for their own
household. The importance of preparing adolescents for this transition is corroborated by
recent research showing that young adult households tend to lag behind older generation
households with regard to pro-environmental practices (Stanes et al., 2015). Not least, the
spending power of this age group is rapidly expanding (Moses, 2000), which corresponds to
an increased relevance in terms of the sustainability impacts resulting from their consumption
Valid and reliable instruments are required to measure the complex sustainable consumption
behavior (SCB) of this target group. Most existing empirical studies investigating sustainable
consumption among teenagers  can be clustered in two groups. The first group focuses on
pre-behavioral factors such as sustainability attitudes (Biasutti and Frate, 2017), concerns
(Francis and Davis, 2015), or consciousness (Balderjahn et al., 2013). The second group
expands on related concepts such as conspicuous consumption (Acikalin et al., 2009), ethical
consumption (Bucic et al., 2012), or political consumer behavior, i.e. participation in boycotts
and buycotts (Quintelier, 2014). Research in both groups has its merits. It has produced
important insights into the conditions and factors affecting teenagers’ consumption choices
(Lee, 2016; Perera et al., 2016), revealed incongruences between attitudes towards sustainable
consumption and respective practices (Hume, 2010; Hitchings et al. 2013; Francis and Davis,
2015) and allowed the analysis of distinct, often problematic tendencies like impulsive
shopping (Brici et al., 2013) or compulsive consumption (Xu, 2008) among teenagers.
However, research from both fields has largely failed to provide a sophisticated foundation of
what should be analyzed as teenagers’ sustainable consumption behaviors. Only few studies
have explicitly attempted to provide a measurement of teenagers’ sustainable consumption
behavior (SCB). Lee et al. (2016) have recently proposed a measure for SCB, which focuses
on undergraduate students in the US. The authors define SCB as “a consumer’s wise balance
of financial responsibility, environmental stewardship, social equity, and sustenance of
personal health” (David Lee et al., 2016, p. 79) and operationalize sustainable and non-
sustainable consumer behaviors with five variables each . However, they overtly state that
“these concepts are not meant to fully cover the construct of sustainable consumer behavior”
(David Lee et al., 2016, p. 82). An alternative approach—in a non-Western context—is
provided by Muralidharan and Xue (2016), who focus on millennials in India and China.
Their measurement of green buying behavior uses a ten-item scale, including “I try to buy
energy efficient products and appliances”, “I have switched products/brands for ecological
reasons” and “I try to buy products that can be recycled” (Muralidharan and Xue, 2016, p.
232), which have been selected and modified from a 30-item inventory of ecologically
conscious consumer behavior (ECCB) (Straughan and Roberts, 1999).
Two general shortcomings of available approaches to the measurement of young consumers’
SCB become apparent: firstly, the mostly inadequate consideration of the distinct conditions
constraining young consumers’ autonomy to consume and, secondly, the lack of criteria for
selecting relevant consumption behaviors with regard to their sustainability impacts.
The first strand of criticism refers to the specific socio-economic status of teenagers.
Adolescence is a transition phase between childhood and adulthood characterized by changing
degrees of consumption autonomy, which may differ significantly between socio-economic
groups and cultural contexts (Palan et al., 2010). Teenagers’ consumption behaviors are
embedded in structures characterized by different degrees of autonomy, ranging from living in
family households to peer-related leisure activities (Larson and Verma, 1999). Although
research shows that teenagers exert influence on consumption-related decision-making
processes (Chavda et al., 2005; Palan et al., 2010; Watne et al., 2014; Collins, 2015), this
embeddedness poses constraints with regard to their autonomy as consumers. Bassett et al.
(2008), for example, demonstrate for the case of eating practices how food choices emerge
from processes of co-construction between teenagers and parents. Approaches to measuring
the SCB of teenagers, in particular those used in the context of interventions geared to
changing teenagers’ consumption patterns towards more sustainable ones, should be
responsive to youth consumption being situated between autonomy and dependence. In
particular, they should focus on those consumption behaviors that teenagers have autonomy
over, instead of those that are to a large extent decided on by others and beyond their control.
The second strand of criticism refers to the question of what behaviors should be selected for
an assessment of SCB in general. Existing approaches to measuring SCB in the social
sciences have received severe criticism in recent years (Steg and Vlek, 2009; Geiger et al.,
2017). Critics argue that existing approaches often fail to provide sufficient explanations why
the behaviors included in instruments measuring individual SCB are of relevance in terms of
their sustainability impacts. Too often behaviors (e.g. turning lights off) are chosen on the
basis that consumers may associate with sustainability or that are traditionally considered as
green, pro-environmental, ethical, or sustainable. Such approaches, however, may lead to
determining the sustainability of consumption behaviors based on an assessment of low-
impact behaviors and a neglect of high-impact behaviors (“key points”) (Bilharz and Schmitt,
2011). In order to remedy this shortcoming, approaches to the measurement of individual
SCBs are needed that select those consumption behaviors with the greatest impacts on the
ecological or socio-economic conditions that allow human beings to meet their needs today
and in the future.
In light of this critique, we find that none of the measures for SCB proposed so far is able to
meet the aforementioned requirements. The behaviors (if assessed at all) included in the
different measures have neither been systematically designed to account for the specific
consumption contexts of young consumers, nor systematically underpinned by considerations
with regard to their impacts on sustainability thresholds. The present paper addresses this
research gap and aims to contribute to the consolidation and advancement of research on the
SCB of young consumers. It does so by describing the development and validation of a scale
measuring the SCB of young consumers in the areas of food and clothing.
This study addresses the lack of sophisticated measures by systematically developing and
validating a scale for young consumers’ sustainable consumption behavior (YCSCB),
focusing on teenagers aged 14 to 17 as the target population. The YCSCB is constructed using
an existing scale that measures sustainable consumption in adults based on the cube model of
SCB (Geiger et al., 2017). The cube model provides an integrative conceptual framework
comprising the three dimensions of SCB and extended by a fourth impact dimension. In this
model, SCB occurs in different consumption areas (food, housing, mobility, clothing etc.),
phases (acquisition, usage, and disposal of consumer goods) and impacts on different
sustainability dimensions (ecological and socio-economic). The fourth cross-cutting
dimension in the SCB cube refers to the necessity to identify and focus on the most relevant
behaviors in the perspective of sustainability, i.e. those consumptions behaviors with the
highest sustainability impacts. The SCB cube thus offers a comprehensive framework for the
operationalization of SCB and the selection of high-impact behaviors.
The development of the YCSCB scale employed a mixed-methods approach comprised of
two sub-studies. Study 1 used a qualitative approach to identify which actual behaviors young
consumers enact with regard to acquiring, using, and disposing of consumer goods in the
areas of food and clothing. Building on the findings of this inquiry, Study 2 sought to adjust
the adults’ scale for SCB in order to construct and validate a quantitative measure of YCSCB.
In what follows, each study will be presented separately, including its methods, results, and a
3. Study 1: Qualitative Study
The overall objective of the explorative qualitative study was to gain a deeper understanding
of young people’s consumption behavior in the phases of acquisition, usage, and disposal,
focusing on the areas of food and clothing. In addition to this, a particular interest was to
determine the degrees of autonomy that frame the scope of action for teenagers’ consumption
behaviors. The 33 items of the adult scale for SCB (Geiger et al., 2017) served as a starting
point for qualitative study and the process of developing the adjusted YCSCB scale.
The sampling strategy employed in this study was designed to obtain a theoretically defined
sample based on three criteria: income, socio-economic status of household, and gender. The
first two criteria were informed by a recent representative study that for the first time assessed
per-capita resource consumption in Germany (Kleinhückelkotten et al., 2016). The findings
reveal that income plays a key role in carbon emissions and that the well-off population
segments cause disproportionally more emissions due to lifestyle choices than less well-off
population segments (Moser et al., 2016). Against this backdrop, the sampling strategy sought
to distinguish between teenagers with high and low income (and thus purchasing power;
Criterion 1) as well as teenagers from households with high and low socio-economic status
(Criterion 2). Criterion 3 is based on prior research indicating sex differences both with regard
to general sustainability consciousness (Hampel et al., 1996) and consumption behaviors in
the area of food (Turner et al., 2013) and clothing (Chen-Yu and Seock, 2002). Thus, a sex-
balanced sample was chosen comprising of four male and four female teenagers (n=8).
The participants were recruited by means of a written notice in a German middle school
(grades 9 and 10) as well as by means of personal one-to-one approaches in a prominent
shopping street in the city center of a mid-sized town in northern Germany. The participants
had to indicate 1) their individual monetary budget including pocket money and earnings from
side jobs, and 2) their self-rated socio-economic status of the household they were living in.
One male and one female person each were then assigned to the dimensions high and low in
both categories. The cut-off value for the personal monthly budget was 35 euros as the mean
value of 24 teenagers initially sampled. This value corresponds closely to broader empirical
investigations of discretionary money of teenagers in this age group (Tully and van Santen,
2012). Socioeconomic status was assessed by asking participants to rank the monetary
situation of their household in comparison to other households in Germany on a five-point
Likert scale . Informants were split into two groups for the sampling (more than most
others / the same as or less than most others).
The interviews took place on the premises of Leuphana University of Lüneburg and lasted
between 17 and 42 minutes each. Prior to the interview each teenager was informed that
participation in the study was voluntary and anonymous and that the interviews would be
recorded. A payment of 10 euros was made to each participant after the interview. The semi-
structured interviews were conducted following a guideline that covered a general
introductory part and two parts focusing on the consumption areas of interest. The general
part included questions on the participants’ living circumstances and usual expenses. The food
part started with a recall of what they had eaten and drunk the day before, whereas the
clothing part began with a recall of the three pieces of clothing they had acquired most
recently. Based on their answers, the participants were asked how they had obtained the
pieces of food and clothing, which criteria had led them to obtain them, if they would do
anything different if they could, and if this behavior was characteristic of their usual
The design of the interview guideline sought to encourage respondents to speak freely by
beginning each part with open questions. Following up on the informants’ responses, more
specific questions were asked concerning specific consumption activities for the three
consumption phases (acquisition, usage, and disposal) of both areas (food and clothing).
These specific questions were derived from the items of the adult scale of SCB (Geiger et al.,
2017). For each item, i.e. consumption activity, additional questions were asked to obtain
information about their decision-making processes and the influences on their consumption
behavior, also in comparison to their peers. Through this combination of more open and
explorative as well as more specific and deductive questions the interview guideline sought
clarification concerning the young consumers’ actions in different consumption areas and
their autonomy and dependence in making these choices in order to provide a more holistic
impression of the actual consumption behavior of teenagers in their everyday lives.
The audio recordings of the interviews were transcribed following transcription rules
developed by Kuckartz et al. (2008). The resulting textual data material was analyzed using a
content analysis approach (Mayring, 2004). A deductive coding system was developed in
order to structure the coding process. The categories of the coding system were closely linked
to the deductive set of questions concerning the consumption behaviors in each area and
phase and also reflected the specific behaviors included in the inventory of the adult version
of the scale. Moreover, open categories were added to the coding system for any other
consumption behavior mentioned in each area and phase or for those mentioned but not in the
pre-defined areas and phases. Additionally, three categories structured the data on decisional
range (consumption behavior autonomously decided on, decided by others but complied with,
and decided by others but not complied with). The transcripts were coded in a division of
labor between two coders. Coder rules included allowance for double-coding. The coded data
material was analyzed for each combination of sampling criteria separately.
Interestingly, no specific patterns were found between the variation of consumption behaviors
of the teenagers in our sample and their self-rated personal budgets and/or the socio-economic
statuses of their households. Moreover, the intention to change any of their consumption
patterns if they had more money and/or more opportunities to decide for themselves did not
depend on how much money they or their parents had at their disposal.
General consumption behaviors
The majority of the participants indicated that they used large parts of their budget to pay for
contracts for mobile phone, music and video streaming services, video games, and electronic
equipment (e.g., mobile phone, laptop, and camera). Moreover, all stated that they bought
lunch and/or snacks during the day, often with extra money from their parents (ranging
between 3 - 5 euros daily). Concerning their expenses on clothing, the teenagers reported that
their parents paid for their clothes only if they really needed them. Any additional piece of
clothing the participants wanted but, according to their parents, did not need they had to pay
out of their personal budget. Other typical expenses of the teenagers were for parties, cinema,
and trips to a bigger city close to their hometown.
Specific consumption behaviors in the area of food
In the present sample, all of the participants and their families consumed meat and dairy
products on a regular basis. Only one participant stated that her father was a vegetarian and
that consequently her family ate very little meat. All of the teenagers reported that they
bought lunch at school and/or snacks like bread, fruit, chocolates, cookies, and other sweets at
bakery stores or supermarkets (also discounters) during school breaks or after school. As a
result, our informants consumed many take-away products (which produce more waste). In
general, the main criteria for their purchases were low price and tastiness. Only a few stated
that they sometimes ensured the product they wanted to buy was organically produced or fair
trade. As expected, the parents were generally responsible for the family’s grocery shopping,
only occasionally accompanied by their children. Only half of the participants indicated that
they prepared meals for themselves. In most of these cases, the parents supplied frozen food
or leftovers the teenagers only had to heat in the oven or microwave. A few of our informants,
however, noted that they knew how to cook easy dishes with pasta, potatoes, or meat for
example. In more than half of the cases, the families grew food in their gardens or held
chickens, although the teenagers did not seem to exert any actual influence on these systems
of self-provisioning. In response to the question if they would do anything differently if they
had more money and/or the opportunity to decide freely for themselves, more than half of the
participants said they would not change anything in general. Three participants stated they
would buy more organically produced or fair trade products.
Specific consumption behaviors in the area of clothing
All except for one of the participants reported that they decided for themselves what pieces of
clothing they would obtain. Their main criteria were low price, fashionable design, the fabric,
and functionality. Criteria like ecological or socially fair production did not play a role for the
teenagers and only one person clearly stated that she would consider these sustainability
aspects more carefully if she had more money. Half of the teenagers indicated that they would
not change any of their consumption criteria if they had more money and/or could decide
freely, whereas roughly a third stated they would buy more clothes if they could afford to do
so. Generally, the parents paid for new clothes as long as they considered the new clothes
necessary, e.g. because their child had grown out of the old clothes. The teenagers only had to
pay for clothes from their personal budget if their parents considered these items unnecessary.
In some cases, the parents accompanied their children to the shops. Sorting out clothes
because they did were no longer in fashion was very common among the informants. Which
pieces of clothing were thrown away, given to charity or repaired was not decided by the
participants themselves, but rather jointly agreed upon with or decided by the parents. Only a
few participants occasionally borrowed from or swapped clothes with friends or others. None
of the participants did their own laundry or produced clothes themselves (e.g. knitting or
In summary, the teenagers of different backgrounds interviewed in this study spent most of
their money on products or services related to their mobile phones and computers as well as
on snacks and clothes that they buy in addition to the basic provision of food and clothes from
their parents. They are highly dependent on their parents concerning their consumption
behaviors in the areas of food and clothing, with parents buying the majority of the food the
teenagers consume and paying for the clothes the teenagers select. Interestingly, the teenagers
in our sample mainly agreed with their parents’ decisions and stated that they would not
change much if they had more money or more opportunities to decide freely for themselves.
Only some indicated they would pay more attention to criteria identified as relevant for
In the last step of this study, the 33 items of the SCB scale for adults (Geiger et al., 2017)
were reviewed in light of the interview findings. Items on behaviors that turned out to be
irrelevant for the target group of young consumers were omitted. In the consumption area of
food, two items were deleted from the adult scale (“Ieatself‐grownfood”and “I buy animal-
based products from animals in ethical husbandry”). Another adaptation was the inclusion of
two control items to account for the differing degrees of autonomy and dependence among
teenagers in their food consumption practices (“How often do you buy food items for
yourself?” and “How often do you prepare meals for yourself?”). The remaining 15 items (see
Table 3) were structured into three parts: firstly, general food behavior (4 items), secondly,
choices when buying food items (7 items), and, thirdly, choices when preparing food (4
items). In the consumption area of clothing, two items on the usage of a washing machine and
a tumble dryer were deleted for the YCSCB since none of the informants in the qualitative
study had reported doing their own laundry. The remaining 14 items were structured into two
parts: firstly, general clothing consumption behaviors (8 items), and, secondly, choices when
selecting clothing items (6 items). Again, two items (“I buy my clothes myself.” and “I get
clothes as presents.”) were included to control for the teenagers’ autonomy in choices
concerning consumption of textiles.
4. Study 2: Quantitative Study
The quantitative study aimed to test the psychometric properties and internal scale structure of
the 15 amended items for sustainable food consumption and the 14 items on sustainable
clothing consumption resulting from the qualitative study. Three different models based on
theoretical considerations were tested separately for each consumption area (in order of
1. A unidimensional model, reflecting a general sustainable consumption behavior factor
(in the area of food and clothes, respectively)
2. A two-dimensional (hierarchical) model, reflecting the ecological and socio-economic
sustainability dimensions as first order factors
3. A three dimensional (hierarchical) model, reflecting the three consumption phases as
sub-dimensions: acquisition, usage and disposal
Participants and Procedure
A convenience sample was recruited via social media and personal contacts in the school
sector. The study was online from November 2016 until January 2017. No payments were
made to participants, but 20 online vouchers worth 10 euros were raffled. After indicating
socio-demographic information about their person, respondents answered questions on
mindfulness, connectedness to nature, enjoyment of nature, the new ecological paradigm
followed by the questions on sustainable consumption in the order of food and then clothing.
The whole questionnaire took approximately 20 minutes to complete. Results on the other
variables will be reported elsewhere.
Of the 186 complete data sets, 7 were excluded because the completion time was extremely
low (under 10 minutes). Another 12 data sets were excluded because respondents were not
between 14-17 years old, which was our intended target population. Lastly, 12 further data
sets from non-native Germans were excluded, yielding a final sample of n=155. Of this final
sample, 77 (49.7%) were female and 78 (50.3%) were male; the mean age was 15.5 years
(ranging from 14 to 17). The highest percentage (72.3%) was attending a Gymnasium
secondary school (leading to the general higher education entrance qualification), while 4.5%
were attending a Realschule (providing lower secondary education), and 1.9% at a
Hauptschule (providing a basic general secondary school education). The remaining 16.1%
attended a Gesamtschule (combining the three forms in one educational institution) (KMK,
2015). The sampling criteria of gender and educational background were assessed as socio-
demographic variables. The original version of the Subjective Socio-Economic Status Scale
was used (Adler et al., 2000). On a scale from 0-10 the students self-estimated their socio-
economic status at 6.6 on average (SD= 1.7). Regarding Criterion 2, data showed that most
students disposed of 6-10 euros of pocket money weekly, with a range of less than 5 to over
Sustainable food consumption
To assess sustainable food consumption, 17 items concerning the acquisition, usage, and
disposal of food were administered. The two control items (“How often do you buy food items
for yourself?” and “How often do you prepare meals for yourself?”) assessing to what extent
students were autonomous in their food choices were excluded from the factor analysis. Of
the remaining 15 items, 10 items were aimed at the ecological and 5 items at the socio-
economic impacts of sustainable consumption (according to the SCB-cube model, see Section
2). The scale analysis comprised these 15 content items. For the complete list of items, please
see Table 1.
Table 1: Items of the young consumers’ sustainable consumption behavior food scale (YCSCBFOOD) (factor
loadings from the 2-factor hierarchical model 4) [items translated; original German scale is available from the
5. Control question: How often do you buy food for yourself? -
13. Control question: How often do you prepare meals for yourself? -
Factor: Nutrition choices (original item numbering) Standardized factor
1. I eat meat (steak, ham, etc.). .58
14. I use frozen foods for meal preparations. .50
17. I use fresh ingredients for meal preparations. .47
16. I reuse leftovers for the next meal. .46
6. I buy snacks and beverages in disposable packaging (take away, fast food, coffee
to go, etc.).
4. It happens that I discard food products. .36
3. I keep a healthy diet. .35
2. I eat dairy products (butter, cheese, yoghurt, etc.). .30
Factor: Purchase choices
8. I avoid food products in excessive packaging. .80
7. I buy organic food products. .76
9. I buy fair trade food products (e.g. with a fair trade label). .71
11. I buy locally grown food products. .63
15. I cook/prepare my meals energy-efficiently. .46
10. I buy food products even just before the best before date expires. .35
12. I buy fresh fruits and vegetables from overseas (e.g. mangos, avocados). deleted
Sustainable clothing consumption
Accordingly, to assess sustainable clothing consumption, 16 items concerning the acquisition,
usage, and disposal of clothes were administered. Again, the two control items (“I buy my
clothes myself.” and “I don’t have to pay for my clothes.”) estimating the autonomy of
teenagers in their clothing consumption were excluded from the factor analysis. Ten items
referred to the ecological dimension, and 4 items to the socio-economic dimension of
sustainability (according to the SCB-cube model, see Section 2). Additionally, we asked for
the overall quantity of clothes acquired over the course of the past year in two different
categories (trousers, skirts, or dresses and shirts, pullovers, or blouses). For the complete list
of items, please refer to Table 2.
Table 2: Items of the young consumers’ sustainable consumption behavior clothing scale (YCSCBCLOTHING)
(factor loadings from the 2-factor hierarchical model 4) [items translated; original German scale is available
from the authors]
1. Control item: I buy my clothes myself. -
2. Control item: I get clothes as presents. -
Factor: Sufficient and frugal consumption Standardized
13. I buy second hand clothing. .75
9. I wear patched and mended clothing. .58
3. I give away or swap unwanted clothing items that I no longer wear. .54
6. Instead of buying a new piece of clothing for a special occasion, I borrow something. .54
10. I look for other possible uses of unwanted clothing items (e.g. as a cleaning cloth or
5. I air my clothing items properly before deciding whether they need washing. .45
7. I make clothing items myself (e.g. sewing, knitting). .38
4. I throw away clothing items that I no longer wear. .29
Factor: Purchase choices
14. I avoid buying clothing items that originate in countries with poor working
11. I choose clothing items from fair trade production. .72
12. I choose clothing items from organic production (e.g. made from organic cotton). .72
15. I choose clothing items with labels that guarantee absence of chemical pollutants
(e.g. OEKO-TEX® confidence in textiles).
16. I choose high quality and long lasting clothing items. .50
8. I sort out clothing items that are no longer fashionable or do not match my taste
Of the 155 respondents, few said they never bought (3.9%) or prepared (5.2%) a meal for
themselves. Roughly a third (35.5%) of the respondents stated they often or always bought
food for themselves and even more (47.1%) said they prepared meals for themselves often or
always. A similar pattern emerged for clothing consumption. Only 3.9% of the respondents
never bought clothes for themselves, whereas more than half (54.9%) said they mostly (often
or more) bought clothes for themselves. Comparing the mean frequency between buying food
and clothes for themselves, teenagers significantly more frequently bought clothes than food
for themselves (t(154) = 3.18, p < 0.01).
For the quantity of purchased clothes items two extremely unlikely values (1000 and 4787)
were excluded from analysis. On average the teenagers bought 7.7 trousers, skirts, or dresses
during the previous year with a high variation (range from 1-88, SD= 9.3 items). The same
was true for upper parts as shirts, pullovers, or blouses: here teenagers bought a mean of 15.1
pieces (ranging from 2-100, SD= 12.4).
Item characteristics and internal structure of the scale
Sustainable food consumption
We computed the confirmatory factor analyses with RStudio (Version 0.99) using the lavaan
package (Rosseel, 2012). The models were evaluated against cutoff criteria for acceptable fit
of CFI≥.90 and RMSEA< .08 according to Bentler (1990). Testing the models in the order of
decreasing parsimony, we first fitted a unidimensional model for all 15 items, yielding an
unsatisfactory model fit (χ²(88) = 171.3, p=.00, RMSEA =.078, and CFI= .832). Item number
12 showed a 0-loading, and the model fit increased significantly when the item was omitted
(see Table 1). Modification indices indicated a covariation of measurement error between
items number 1 and 2 (indicating that consuming meat and dairy products are stochastically
dependent, as the latter indicates a more restrictive dietary choice – veganism – than the
former), items number 7 and 9 (referring to organically produced and fair trade products, also
partially dependent), and items number 3 and 17 (eating healthily and with fresh ingredients).
All further models (Models 2 to 4, for comparative indices see Table 1) were calculated
without item 12 and allowed for error correlations between items 1 and 2, 7 and 9, as well as 3
and 17 respectively.
Next we tested a two-dimensional, hierarchical model based on the conceptual distinction of
sustainability dimensions, followed by a three-dimensional hierarchical model taking into
account consumption phases. Neither model showed a satisfactory model fit (for comparative
fit indices see Table 3), so we proceeded to amend items according to modification indices
from model 3. The resulting two-factorial hierarchical model with a nutrition choices and a
purchase choices factor showed best improvement compared to the unidimensional model.
Both factors loaded strongly on a higher order “sustainable food consumption” factor
(nutrition choices: γ = 0.90 and purchase choices: γ = 0.77). Factor loadings for the items of
this model are presented in Table 3.
Table 3: Comparison of different models for the young consumers’ sustainable consumption behavior food scale
# Model Type χ²-Model Test RMSEA CFI χ²-Difference Test
compared to 1
(- item 12)* χ²(74) = 131.2, p<.000 .071 .883
χ²(73) = 129.4, p<.000 .071 .884 χ²(1) = 1.8, p=.18
χ²(71) = 128.6, p<.000 .072 .882 χ²(3) = 2.6, p=.45
χ²(73) = 116.3, p=.001 .062 .911 χ²(1) = 14.9, p<.000
Sustainable clothing consumption
For the clothing consumption items we proceeded as with the food items. A unidimensional
model yielded an unsatisfactory fit (χ²(88) = 171.3, p=.00, RMSEA =.078, and CFI= .832).
Item 8 showed a non- significant loading and was subsequently omitted from further models.
Similar to the food scale, items 11 and 12 (referring to organically produced and fair trade
clothes) had correlated error terms which was allowed in all subsequent models. A two-
factorial model based on sustainability dimensions did not yield satisfactory fits. Next we
tested the three-factorial model based on consumption phases which had a significantly better
fit than the unidimensional one, but still just failed to reach satisfactory fit indices (see Table
4). This model was outperformed by an amended two-factorial hierarchical model based on
modification indices, yielding a sufficiency/frugality consumption and a purchase choices
factor. Both factors loaded strongly on a higher order sustainable clothing consumption factor
(sufficiency/frugality consumption: γ = 0.85 and purchase choices: γ = 0.80). Factor loadings
for all items based on Model 4 are presented in Table 4.
Table 4: Comparison of different models for the young consumers’ sustainable consumption behavior clothing
# Model χ²-Model Test RMSEA CFI χ²-Difference Test
compared to 1
(- item 8) χ²(64) = 146.9, p<.000 .091 .818
χ²(63) = 151.7, p<.000 .095 .806 no improvement
χ²(61) = 107.3., p<.000 .070 .899 χ²(3) = 39.6, p<.000
factors: sufficiency /
χ²(63) = 97.0, p<.000 .060 .922 χ²(1) = 49.9,
As item 8 refers to a quantitative aspect of clothing consumption (the reason items are
replaced) we correlated this item with the overall number of clothes acquired during the
previous year. The bivariate Pearson’s correlation, however, revealed no relation between the
two variables (r= 0.09, p= .25). We also computed the correlation between the number of
clothes acquired and the mean of the new purchase choices scale, which was weakly
negatively correlated (r= -0.15, p= 0.55).
In this paper we present a valid and reliable measurement scale to assess young consumers’
sustainable consumption behavior in the area of food (YCSCBFOOD, n=14 items) and clothing
(YCSCBCLOTHING, n=13 items). The development of the items was based on the SCB-cube
model (see Section 2, Geiger et al., 2017) spanning the three consumption phases of
acquisition, usage, and disposal as well as the impacts of consumption behaviors on socio-
economic and ecological sustainability dimensions. The measurement models did not provide
a satisfactory fit for either consumption phases or sustainability dimensions. Instead, a
hierarchical model with two well interpretable sub-factors and a strong general factor
emerged as the best fit for both consumption areas. . For the area of food, the first factor
comprises food choices (vegetarian, vegan, and eat healthily). The second factor comprises
purchase behaviors of sustainably sound products (e.g., fair trade, organically and regionally
produced products) and energy saving behaviors. Being conscious of imported foods had no
diagnostic value for the sustainable behavior of young consumers, so we deleted the item
from the scale. As both factors loaded highly on a general order factor we consider our scale
to reflect an overall sustainable food consumption style and encourage the use of an overall
scale mean. For further development of the scale, combined items for the correlated item pairs
should be considered (e.g. fair trade/eco-label purchases) because in practice these two
behaviors often coincide (i.e. fair trade products imply ecological standards).
The same applies for the clothing consumption scale, which comprises a subscale of frugal
behaviors such as swapping and borrowing clothes, using second-hand clothing, and repairing
clothes. The other subscale reflects purchase behaviors of buying ecologically and socially
responsible or high quality products, similar to the food area. The second order factor also
suggests using an overall scale mean for diagnostic usage of an overall sustainable clothing
consumption style. It has to be noted though that this style exclusively refers to a qualitative
aspect of purchased clothes and their respective usage, whereas the quantitative aspect was
captured in additional questions. Item 8, which was intended to assess the frequency in which
clothes are discarded for new fashions, did not correlate with the overall number of acquired
pieces. We conclude that the item did not capture the behavior we intended it to and as it did
not contribute to the overall scale, we deleted it from the scale. Our scale correlates very
weakly with the quantity of clothing purchases. As this constitutes a key point of sustainable
behavior in the area of clothing, we explicitly encourage future research to investigate the
overall volume of clothing purchases. This seems particularly advisable as teenagers are more
autonomous in the consumption area of clothing than food.
5. Limitations and Future Research
The target group of this study is young consumers of a specific age group (14-17 years) in
Germany in a specific household economic structure (with parents at home) in a specific time
period. These contextual factors allow the development and validation of a SCB scale that is
tailored closely to the lifeworlds of young consumers. This narrow focus makes it necessary
to carefully consider the limitations involved in transferring the scale to other population
groups and contexts.
For a rigorous assessment of SCB, context-sensitive measures are needed that are also able to
reflect high-impact consumption behaviors from a sustainability perspective in the target
group’s lifeworld. Thus, the selection of behaviors for study is dependent on both the
lifeworlds of young consumers and sustainability priorities. The present scale was developed
for the German context. In other parts of the world, different behaviors may be selected to
account for different high-priority areas of action, different household compositions in the age
group, and different sustainability priorities. We would, however, argue that given overall
similarities with regard to different contextual factors such as available income of teenagers
(for pocket money, see e.g. ING, 2014) the YCSCB scale presented in this study may well be
a feasible and robust measure in cultural contexts outside of Germany. This remains to be
corroborated or corrected by further research.
A more general restriction arises from the overall dynamics of youth consumption. The ways
in which teenagers consume is constantly changing, both in the geographical (urban vs. rural,
Global North vs. Global South) and in the social realms (e.g. milieus, lifestyles, youth
cultures) (Kjeldgaard and Askegaard, 2006; Larson and Verma, 1999). As a result, even for
the context for which this scale was developed, it will need constant revision and updating for
researchers interested in measuring and understanding young consumers’ SCB to have
reliable and valid instruments. This is a task for future research in the field.
For other contexts, the method used and presented in this study gives a guideline on how to
approach the adjustment of the YCSCB scale for specific population groups and contexts.
This approach builds on a conceptualization of a threefold perspective on SCB: in
consumption areas (food, clothing, etc.), phases (acquisition, usage, and disposal), and
sustainability impacts (ecological and socio-economic). In our view, a benefit of such a
conceptual meta-perspective is that it encourages a more valid (in terms of content or
construct validity) measurement of SCB. The use of such a conceptual framework in
developing SCB scales for different subpopulations and contexts would allow for greater
comparison of different measures and a better differentiation among instruments with regard
to the aspects of SCB they are measuring.
This paper provides a twofold contribution to the field of measuring SCB among young
consumers: by presenting a consolidated scale and by paving the way towards a more
sophisticated measurement of SBC among young consumers that is both more comparable,
focused on behaviors (instead of confounding behaviors with intentions, attitudes, or values),
and impact-oriented in terms of sustainability relevance.
 While we acknowledge that the terms teenagers, young adults, adolescents, and youths are
used with different meanings in different contexts (Furlong, 2013), we have chosen to use the
term “teenager” to refer to our target group of 14 to 17-year-olds.
 Compassionate self-concept, health consciousness, self-esteem, volunteerism, and self-
sufficiency as variables for sustainable consumer behavior, and negative behavior, risk-taking,
materialism, compulsive buying, and negative attitude toward business ethics as variables for
non-sustainable consumer behavior (David Lee et al., 2016).
 The five poles were labelled: significantly more than most others, slightly more than most
others, no more or less than most others, slightly less than most others, and significantly less
than most others.
The authors would like to thank Jana Koltzau and Hannah Auerochs for their support in the collection and
analysis of data, Carolin Kameke in the preparation of tables and Theresa Horbach for background research, Paul
Lauer for proofreading and editing, as well as two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on an earlier
version of this manuscript.
The work was part of the project BiNKA (Education for Sustainable Consumption through Mindfulness Training
[project funding reference number: 01UT1416], funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and
Research in the Socio-Ecological Research Programme on Sustainable Economy between 2015 and 2018).
About the authors
Daniel Fischer is an educational and social scientist and currently serves as a junior professor for sustainability
science at the Institute for Environmental & Sustainability Communication (INFU). His interdisciplinary
research group sustainable consumption and sustainability communication (SuCo²) is studying the contributions
that communication can make to advance towards sustainable development. The SuCo² group focuses on the role
of consumption in satisfying human needs, investigates into its social and ecological impacts, and explores new
ways how human beings can be encouraged and enabled to take up more sustainable alternatives.
Tina Böhme is a (neuro-)cognitive psychologist by training and currently working on her dissertation
investigating the effects of a mindfulness training on sustainable consumption in adolescents at Technische
Universität Berlin. She is an expert for a variety of topics at the nexus of educational and (neuro-)cognitive
sciences, e.g. mindfulness, creativity, and education for sustainable consumption. She is especially interested in
how the practice of mindfulness can contribute to a more sustainable, compassionate, and peaceful interaction of
human beings with their natural and social surroundings.
Sonja M. Geiger is a cognitive psychologist by training and an expert for sustainable consumption. She has been
working in various research projects aimed at the determinants of sustainable behaviors and the design of
according environmental educational interventions at the Ulm University and the Technische Universität Berlin.
Before returning to the scientific exploration of sustainability issues, she has worked for an international
environmental association in Latin America. She is especially interested in the interplay between normative and
rational determinants of sustainable behavior.
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