Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Parallel 1.3 Sustainable Consumption
Thursday, 01/Sept/2022:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Silje Elisabeth Skuland
Location: Room: PA 314

KK-senteret, Pilestredet 46, 3th floor, room for 25-30

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Changing perceptions of sustainable products

Harald Throne-Holst

A central part of a green transition is that consumers choose (more) sustainable products over products that are less sustainable. The facilitation of this hinges on a number of premises and conditions. One of these, that tend to be taken for granted, is that consumers are interested in choosing such products to do their part of the work towards a more sustainable and ‘green’ future. That they perceive that their ‘free’ choice between various products on the market is crucial to realize a sustainable future.

Focus group studies were parts of two recent projects (‘BioZement 2.0’ and ‘Green Marketing – Marketing with sustainability claims’). Although the framing of the two projects were rather different, both focus groups studies concerned consumers’ interpretations, understandings and perceptions of what sustainable products actually is - what is the property of sustainability?

Sustainable products do not appear to be much appreciated by consumers. Sustainability features far down on the list of properties consumers look for when considering products. Is this a product of apathy or fatalism towards the sustainability agenda? Is sustainability really about symbolic consumption, so consumers would choose the sustainable option only for products where sustainability is part of a shared conception of the product's symbolic meaning?

In this contribution I will present findings from the two projects and offer different hypotheses for what looks to be changing perceptions of sustainable products.

Consume with care and responsibility! The material-semiotic making and distribution of responsibilities in green marketing

Réka Ines Tölg, Maria Fuentes

Consumers are increasingly pressured to handle today’s environmental challenges. Previous consumer studies have emphasised the role given to consumers and the way discourse in various sustainability domains constructs ‘the consumer’ as a figure with moral responsibility to shape their consumption to handle environmental challenges. This responsibility is, these studies argue, formed through the discursive process of ‘responsibilization’ and shifted from macro and meso level actors like governments, corporations and NGOs to the individual consumer. In this paper we challenge this notion of responsibilization as a mainly discursive process solely invoking ‘the consumer’. Following Evans et al.’s (2017) analysis of food waste reduction initiatives in the UK retail sector, we set out to explore and conceptualise responsibility as an emergent and distributed construct. Like Evans et al. (2017) we highlight the role of retailers and ask how responsibility is constructed through retailers’ green marketing. The aim of the paper is, therefore, to explore and conceptualise how responsibility is formed, circulated and distributed among actors through retailers’ mundane and localised performances of green marketing. Combining responsibilization theory and constructivist market studies we suggest the concept of ‘responsibilization device’ to bring to the fore the way retailers’ green marketing assemble ‘devices’ that materially and semiotically construct responsibility, attributing it to consumers, retailers and their products. Drawing on a multi-sited study of three fashion retailers’ green marketing we show how marketing form responsibilization devices with the capacity to connect and carry responsibilities thereby enabling retailers to ‘act-at-a distance’, attributing but also assuming responsibility for unsustainable consumption practices outside the retail context. Highlighting the material-semiotic formation of responsibility and the way responsibilization is intertwined with the formation of markets the analysis extends previous work by showing how and why retailers construct and take on responsibilities rather than only passing them along to the consumer.

The Future of Discounting Practices? Materials, meanings, and competences in the Swedish Fashion Retail Sector

Gabriella Wulff

Discounting is increasingly common, where the fashion retail sector is characterised by a constant flow of campaigns, and discounted sales (Koszewska, 2018). This is problematic for retailers since it reduces margins and comes with large volumes to maintain profitability, leading to overproduction and overconsumption. Previous research focused on optimization between supply and demand, and consumer rituals. Few have addressed the retailer’s rationales for discounting. Inspired by a practice theoretical framework (Shove, Pantzar, & Watson, 2012), this study determines the materials, meanings, and competences of discounting practices. Material was collected though an ethnographic study of the Swedish fashion retail sector, where 34 interviews with representatives from fashion companies, IT consultants, member organisations, and entrepreneurs, fifty observations in physical stores and over ten thousand screenshots in social and traditional media, were carried out. The findings show an overflow of materials, creating a problem of excess volumes in the industry. Meanings are shifting, where respondents report on how discounting is considered increasingly problematic. The competences in reducing clearance sales are limited, and often met with other market-stimulating activities. There are also signs of more sustainable activities, such as reducing the number of styles, carry-over products and re-designing products not sold at full-price. The findings indicate that the links between the elements are broken, with a shift in mindset opening for a change in the use of discounting, dependent on less materials and new competences in more sustainable solutions for the future of discounting practice. The study contributes to academia with an empirical example of how links between materials, competences and meanings are broken and opportunities for change.

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