Green materialism: less is more also in sustainability

The use of natural resources to support the exaggerated consumption pattern of contemporary society is a determining factor for climate change. Based on this view, Sabrina Helm, professor at Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at University of Arizona conducted a survey of consumer behavior among millennials published in July this year. She and her team conducted a study to understand how materialistic values ​​affect pro-environmental behaviors in this group.

The focus of the study was on the following two behaviors: reducing overall consumption, which includes repairing items rather than replacing them with new ones and living with fewer things (reducing wardrobe pieces, for example); and “green consumption”, ie giving preference to products with lower environmental impact, cleaner production chain (such as recycled and reusable items).

Excess waste, a major problem generated by the current high consumption pattern. (Source: Emmet / Pexels)

The bottom line is that more materialistic participants are willing to consume more sustainably, but not reduce consumption itself. They would be the "green consumers". “If you can buy green products, you can still live up to your materialistic values. You're getting new things, it fits the majority pattern in our consumer culture, while reduction is something newer and probably more important to sustainability, ”says Helm.

Less is more for welfare too

The research also sought to assess how involvement in pro-environmental behaviors affects consumer welfare. Green consumption, although having a positive impact on the environment (albeit to a lesser extent than reducing consumption), does not appear to positively affect consumer welfare, the study found.

Participants who adopt reduced consumption show increased well-being and reduced psychological distress, the same is not true in the other group. “The key is to cut consumption and not just buy green stuff. Having less and buying less can really make us happier and happier, ”says Helm.

The researcher points out the difficulty in changing some behavior and consumption patterns due to the heavy weight of social construction. According to her, “From childhood we have been told that there is one product for everything and that it's okay to buy, and that's good, because that's how the economy works.”

The researchers' findings are based on data from a longitudinal study that followed 968 young adults from the first year of college, when they were between 18 and 21 years old, up to two years after graduation, between 23 and 26 years old.