sustainability, ethical consumption, marketing ethics

Document Type

Proceedings Paper



A Research Agenda for Advancing the Marketer's Understanding of Ethical Consumption in a Post-Modern World

The attribution of moral significance to the choice of everyday consumer goods may well mean that personal consumption is increasingly viewed as an ethical exercise and not simply an economic transaction.

Consumer behavior has emerged as an important moral battleground in the 21st century. Those in doubt of this statement need look no farther than their local Catholic church. In a church encyclical released 06.18.15, Pope Francis called for radical transformation not only of global politics and economics but of individual lifestyles in the battle to confront the environmental deterioration of Earth. An encyclical is a document that serves as an official communication of church teaching. Francis (the first pope from the Global South) wrote in Laudato Si (the first encyclical entirely devoted to environmental issues) that “humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and consumption to address the human causes that produce or aggravate environmental degradation and climate change” (Laudato Si, 2015).

That such a high-profile religious communique would focus on human consumption and its consequences brings the marketing domain of consumer behavior squarely into the personal moral realm, as was the Pope’s intent some would argue (Stoll 2015). Consumer behavior, however, breached the moral domain two or more decades ago in a subfield of marketing known as ethical consumption (Pharr 2014). To consume ethically is to consume products that negatively affect neither man nor the natural world (Brinkman 2004). It extends to products that, not only through their consumption but also through their production or disposal, have a deleterious effect on people, society, nature, the environment, and/or animals.