Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Proposition of an Integrative Theory of Socially Responsible Consumption Behaviour

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Proposition of an Integrative Theory of Socially Responsible Consumption Behaviour

Article excerpt


Evidence of ethical or SRCB dates back hundreds of years (Crane, 2001). However, academic scrutiny of this type of consumer behaviour began in the 1970s (François-Lecompte & Roberts, 2006). Specifically, Socially Responsible Consumption (SRC) finds its origins in a sociological construct relating to "social consciousness" i.e., an individual's willingness to help other people even if there is no personal gain (Berkowitz & Lutterman, 1968). The nascent stream of Socially Responsible Consumption research therefore considered SRC as based upon social involvement (Anderson & Cunningham, 1972; Anderson, Hénion & Cox, 1974; Brooker, 1976). Webster (1975) broadened that initial perspective by emphasizing that SR consumers are also aware of social problems, believes they have the power to make a difference, and must be active in their community.

The 1970s witnessed the growing development of marketing with an environmental perspective (Zikmund & Stanton, 1971; Hénion, 1972; Fisk, 1974; Perry, 1976; Hénion & Kinnear, 1976; Shapiro, 1978). Academic work on Socially-Responsible Consumption took therefore a strong environmental orientation (Tognacci, Weigel, Wideen & Vernon, 1972; Anderson et al., 1974; Kinnear, Taylor & Ahmed, 1974; Brooker, 1976; Arbuthnot, 1977; Buttel & Flinn, 1978a, 1978b; Van Liere & Dunlap, 1981). Even Webster's (1975) Socially Conscious Scale Index, for example, focused mainly on environmental concerns (Webb, Mohr & Harris, 2008). Besides, the concepts of green marketing and green consumer gained momentum in the 1980s (Brundtland, 1987; Vandermerwe & Oliff, 1990; MORI, 1994). This shift emphasized the ecological viewpoint even more in SRC related research (e.g., Antil [1984]). The ecological perspective remained predominant in the early 1990s (see Ellen [1994]).

Several researchers recognized there was more to social responsibility than environmental concerns. Fisk (1973) considered two additional, although antagonistic perspectives to responsible consumption: anti-growth perspective and economic development perspective. Later, authors defined more precisely the consequences sought by socially responsible consumers - not only environmental but also social well-being (Engel & Blackwell 1982). In fact, the concept of "green consumer" was widened to that of "ethical consumer" when the range of moral concern was detected (Mintel, 1994). From then on, most authors adhered to a more global notion of Socially-Responsible Consumption consistent with Webster's work, that is, an environmental concern and a more general social concern (Roberts, 1993, 1995, 1996; Mohr, Webb & Harris, 2001; François- Lecompte & Valette-Florence, 2006; François-Lecompte & Roberts, 2006; Webb et al., 2008).

Several concepts associated with Socially Responsible Consumption (SRC) have been proposed such as "socially conscious consumption", "socially responsible consumer behaviour" or "ethical consumption". The act of consuming in a socially responsible way converges with what is recognized as "good" (Smith, 1990). As a consequence, a socially responsible consumer may be construed as an ethical consumer as well (François-Lecompte & Robert, 2006, p.52). Newholm and Shaw (2007) take a more integrative stance by arguing that "there has been a proliferation of ethical cultures and related concepts (e.g., voluntary simplicity, slow living, anti-consumption groups), but overall these concepts can be related to the individual projects of ethical consumption hence socially-responsible or responsible consumption" (p.259).

Several measurement scales have subsequently be developed in order to measure the level of responsible or ethical consumption. However, these measures suffer from serious flaws and drawbacks. First, in accordance with Churchill's (1979), scale development paradigm, a concept domain has to be first well-defined in order for a researcher to develop a measurement of that concept. …

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