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Consumer resistance to sustainability interventions emerges because consumers are required to change their broader social practices (through sensemaking, accommodating and stabilizing) rather than individual behaviours, and face challenges (responsibilization battles, unsettling emotionality, and the un/linking of other practices) in achieving that task. We provide recommendations for marketers and policy makers for 1) how to design practice-based interventions to reduce consumer resistance at the outset, and 2) how to monitor and adjust the intervention once it has been implemented.
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Gonzalez-Arcos, Claudia, Alison M. Joubert, Daiane Scaraboto, Rodrigo Guesalaga, and Jorgen Sandberg (2021), “How Do I Carry All This Now?” Understanding Consumer Resistance to Sustainability Interventions,” Journal of Marketing.
Given the increasingly grave environmental crisis, governments and organizations frequently initiate sustainability interventions to encourage sustainable behavior in individual consumers. However, prevalent behavioral approaches to sustainability interventions often have the unintended consequence of generating consumer resistance, undermining their effectiveness. With a practice–theoretical perspective, the authors investigate what generates consumer resistance and how it can be reduced, using consumer responses to a nationwide ban on plastic bags in Chile in 2019. The findings show that consumer resistance to sustainability interventions emerges not primarily because consumers are unwilling to change their individual behavior—as the existing literature commonly assumes—but because the individual behaviors being targeted are embedded in dynamic social practices. When sustainability interventions aim to change individual behaviors rather than social practices, they place excessive responsibility on consumers, unsettle their practice-related emotionality, and destabilize the multiple practices that interconnect to shape consumers’ lives, ultimately leading to resistance. The authors propose a theory of consumer resistance in social practice change that explains consumer resistance to sustainability interventions and ways of reducing it. They also offer recommendations for policy makers and social marketers in designing and managing sustainability initiatives that trigger less consumer resistance and thereby foster sustainable consumer behavior.
Special thanks to Holly Howe (Ph.D. candidate at Duke University) and Demi Oba (Ph.D. candidate at Duke University), for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.
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