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Sustainable Consumption Dilemmas

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), 2594 AV The Hague, The Netherlands
Tilburg Sustainability Centre and Department of Economics, Tilburg University, 5037 AB Tilburg, The Netherlands
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Gerrit Antonides
Sustainability 2017, 9(6), 942;
Received: 30 January 2017 / Revised: 21 May 2017 / Accepted: 25 May 2017 / Published: 3 June 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Consumer Behavior)
PDF [576 KB, uploaded 5 June 2017]


To examine which considerations play a role when individuals make decisions to purchase sustainable product varieties or not, we have conducted a large scale field experiment with more than 600 participating households. Households can vote on whether the budgets they receive should only be spent on purchasing the sustainable product variety, or whether every household in a group is free to spend their budget on any product variety. By conducting several treatments, we tested whether people tend to view sustainable consumption as a social dilemma or as a moral dilemma. We find little support for the hypothesis that social dilemma considerations are the key drivers of sustainable consumption behaviour. Participants seem to be caught in a moral dilemma in which they not only weigh their individual financial costs with the sustainable benefits but they also consider the consequences of restricting other people’s freedom of choice. Complementary survey results further substantiate this claim and show that many people are reluctant to impose restrictions on their peers, but, at the same time, our results also suggest substantial support for the government to regulate the availability of unsustainable product varieties. View Full-Text
Keywords: sustainable consumption; field experiment; social dilemma; moral dilemma sustainable consumption; field experiment; social dilemma; moral dilemma

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Vringer, K.; Heijden, E.; Soest, D.; Vollebergh, H.; Dietz, F. Sustainable Consumption Dilemmas. Sustainability 2017, 9, 942.

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