Consumers Wont Trade Functionality for Sustainabilityt Trade Functionality for Sustainability

Consumers Won't Trade Functionality for Sustainability

Consumers will pay a 10% premium for sustainability, and demand a greater discount for "unsustainability," but they won't trade off functionality. 
Tom Ewart June 7, 2010
Most of what we know about sustainable consumerism is based on surveys, which are good indicators of attitudes but lousy predictors of behaviours. It appears that on average, consumers will pay a 10 per cent premium for sustainability, and demand a greater discount for "unsustainability." However, they will not trade off functionality. Managers can design the marketing context and messaging carefully to promote sustainable consumerism. Researchers should cease conducting surveys on consumer attitudes and intentions.


We think we know a lot about socially conscious consumerism. Countless anecdotes and surveys suggest some consumers will purchase sustainable products and services and at great premiums. But anecdotes do not apply widely, and surveys are poor predictors of actual consumer behaviour.


Implications for Managers

Implications for Researchers

Researchers must cease conducting surveys on consumer attitudes and intentions, which tell us little about how they will behave. Newer methods—including forced-choice experiments, experiments where consumers believe they will be paying their own money, and field experiments using scanner or other sales data—would be better, moving away from relying on self-reported behaviours.


The authors systematically reviewed and synthesized more than 90 academic and practitioner papers. The full methodology is described in the full report.
Cotte, June, & Trudel, Remi. (2009). Socially Conscious Consumerism: A Systematic Review. Network for Business Sustainability Knowledge Project Series.

additional resources

Research Insight

The Socially Responsible Purchase and Disposal (SRPD) scale measures how consumers make green purchases and finds that it hinges on making a difference.

Lauren Rakowski
Research Insight

As the demand green products increases, there is an incentive for companies to offer them, and understand consumer behaviour to market them effectively.

Lauren Rakowski
Reports and Articles

A new study conducted by a Kitchener-based nonprofit set out to answer that question. By intercepting Canadian shoppers outside of retail locations and assessing their in-home inventory, researchers found that the participants who owned and used the least sustainable products and services are university educated, own their homes and live in households with two or more persons.

Jessica Kilcoyne