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Press Release from the Journal of Marketing: SHIFT Consumer Behavior to Reach Sustainability Goals

Matt Weingarden

Key Takeaway: Corporate and policy leaders can encourage consumers to SHIFT their behaviors towards sustainability using this simple framework.

Chicago, May 22, 2019 — Researchers from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia recently published a paper in the Journal of Marketing that shows how companies and policy makers can help consumers change wasteful and environmentally damaging behaviors into more eco-friendly actions.

The study forthcoming in the May issue of the Journal of Marketing titled “How to SHIFT Consumer Behaviors to be More Sustainable: A Literature Review and Guiding Framework” is authored by Katherine White, Rishad Habib, and David J. Hardisty.

We live in a consumption economy. Both individual and corporate consumption harms the environment with excessive meat consumption, plastic packaging, and careless use of energy and other resources. Commercial building energy waste is accelerating climate change. We are fast spoiling our natural environment, which will have consequences for this and future generations.

Clearly, it behooves researchers, policy makers, and government and corporate leaders to help consumers rethink and change their behaviors. However, changing entrenched behavior is hard and harder still to scale. This research provides a psychological framework that leaders can use to foster sustainable behavior. Represented by the acronym SHIFT, the framework highlights five routes to accomplishing the goal of shifting consumer behaviors. “Our study demonstrates that consumers are more inclined to engage in pro-environmental behaviors when they receive a message or are in a context that leverages the following psychological factors: social influence, habit, individual self, feelings and cognition, and tangibility,” said White.

What are these SHIFT factors?

  • Social influence: Social factors are some of the most influential in terms of effecting sustainable consumer behavior change. Using facets of social influence—social norms, social identities, and social desirability—can shift consumers to be more sustainable.
  • Habits: Habits refer to behaviors that have become automatic over time. Some habits are harmful to the environment; others are beneficial. Interventions that break repetition, such as discontinuity and penalties, can disrupt bad habits. Actions and policies that encourage repetition can strengthen or form positive habits.
  • Individual self: Factors linked to how individuals perceive themselves can have a powerful influence on consumption behaviors. Concepts such as self-interest, self-consistency, and self-efficacy contribute to the effectiveness of sustainability efforts.
  • Feelings and cognition: Negative emotions can lead to damaging consumption. Positive emotions can lead to pro-environmental behaviors.
  • Tangibility: Sustainable consumer behaviors involve putting aside immediate and proximal individual interests to prioritize outcomes that are abstract, as well as focused on others and the future. Thus, sustainable actions and outcomes can seem low in tangibility. Solutions to the tangibility problem include communicating clear, concrete, and local impacts of both unsustainable and sustainable actions.

Key challenges that make sustainable consumption distinct from typical consumer behavior are the self-other trade-off, the long-time horizon, the requirement of collective action, the problem of abstractness, and the need to replace automatic with controlled processes. Habib and Hardisty explain, “We examine each of these challenges to sustainable consumer behavior change through the lens of our SHIFT framework. No single route to behavior change works ‘best.’ We suggest that practitioners and policy makers first understand the specific behavior to be changed, the context in which the behavior will occur, the intended target of the intervention, and the barriers (and benefits) associated with the behavior. Combining strategies often can accomplish goals better than one strategy alone.”

Full article and author contact information available at:

Read the JM Scholarly Insights from the authors
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About the Journal of Marketing

The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief.

About the American Marketing Association (AMA)

As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what’s coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.

Matt Weingarden, Vice President, Communities & Journals, leads the diverse team that supports the AMA’s network of community leaders from its three broad communities and four scholarly journals.