Academic journal article European Journal of Sustainable Development

The Effects of Materialism and Consumer Ethics on Ecological Behavior: An Empirical Study

Academic journal article European Journal of Sustainable Development

The Effects of Materialism and Consumer Ethics on Ecological Behavior: An Empirical Study

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

As humans come into being in the environment, and they live and develop with it, their environmental concern starts with their existence. Also, next generations of humans are entrusted to the environment. Due to their respect for environment and belief that they need environment to maintain their own life, humans had generally lived in harmony with the environment until the Industrial Revolution in the 1750s. However, the Industrial Revolution intensified materialism, which was already present in the human nature. The motivation to have more and the belief that more consumption brings more pleasure have placed the material in the center of human life (Fourner and Rishins, 1991). Essentially, the feeling of acquiring material goods is a natural and healthy part of human nature. Whereas, when a specific threshold is exceeded, materialism starts damaging both individuals and the society (Muncy and Eastman, 1998). Great competition caused by the Industrial Revolution not only increased colonialism and despoliation but also led to the World War II. In the years following the Second World War, especially as ofthe 1960s, studies related to social sciences including psychology, economics, etc. aimed to understand the environment as well as human beings. In other words, environmental concern attracted researchers' attention (Stisser, 1994; Kilbourne and Pickett, 2008; Eckhardt et al, 2010).

Many scientists consider the "Earth Day" 1970 as the first modern environmental movement. Although the 1970s are known as the "Environmental Decade", energy problems in mid-1970s and related decline in the welfare of Western society decreased the public support for environmental issues (Krause, 1993). On the other side, the political climate and government policies created under the leadership of Reagan and Bush raised an "adverse response" in the public and increased environmental concern and commitment (Dunlap and Scarce, 1991). Environmental concern became a dominant social theme in the 1990s. As researchers and environmental organizations underline the importance of the problems facing our planet, environmental concern of people increases day by day (Ottman, 1993; Stisser, 1994; Thapa, 2001).

The fluctuating trend of the environmental concern in the history brings the following question to mind: Do human beings behave more materialistic and less ethical when they have concerns about their welfare? Shafik (1994) reports that the functions reflecting relative costs and benefits of individuals and countries related to environmental issues vary at different stages of economic welfare. Both Feather (1998) and Ger and Belk (1996) indicate that materialist values tend to increase in developing countries. Compared to middle income and poorer countries, developed economies, which are in the search of more clear air and relatively clean water resources, and emerging markets still facing serious environmental problems have relatively higher environmental standards and more stringent environmental legislations (Grossman and Kruger (1995). The Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) analyzing the relationship between income and environmental degradation summarizes all these information mentioned above (Stern, 2004).

Considering historical process of environmental concern and the information in the EKC are, we can reach the following conclusions: First, materialism, if exceeds the limits, is the reason for many environmental problems (Bredeme and Toby, 1960) and similarly the solution of many problems lies in consumer ethics (Fisk, 1973). Second, consumer ethics become more virtuous and materialism withdraws to its natural boundaries in case of welfare (Inglehart, 1981; Hirsh and Dolder, Finance, 2007; Eckhardt et al., 2010). These two arguments have provided guidance while deciding the research question. In this context, this study aims to analyze how materialism and consumer ethics, directly or through environmental concern, affect the ecological behaviors of consumers . …

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