Consumers and Climate Change: Can the Presence of Others Promote More Sustainable Consumer Choice?

The IPCC have identified a number of aspects of human activity that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and thereby affect climate change. These include such things as population size and patterns of land use that are difficult or impossible to change, especially in the short-term. However, they have also identified “lifestyle” as a major contributory factor. “Lifestyle” is comprised of many of the behavioural choices that we make as consumers in our everyday lives. This makes a deeper understanding of consumer choice a critical consideration in the fight against climate change. One important theoretical issue, deriving from an evolutionary perspective, is how the presence of others affects consumer choice with differing environmental consequences. In this study, we compared the product choices of a set of experimental participants when shopping alone or with friends in a simulated shopping task. We found that the presence of others had a significant effect overall on consumer choice. People are more likely to select well-known brands and luxury products when shopping with others. Costly signalling theory (from evolutionary psychology), where we signal to our friends that we have the resource to purchase these kinds of items, can explain these findings. Similarly, we found that people are more likely to purchase organic or eco brands when shopping with others. Again, this is compatible with costly signalling theory, where we signal here our pro-social orientation through our selections (this is also advantageous in evolutionary terms). However, carbon footprint labels did not work in this way. Our participants were significantly more likely to choose low-carbon items when shopping alone than when shopping with friends. In other words, low-carbon items did not behave like well-known brands, luxury items, or organic/eco products. There appears to be no added social cachet to choosing low-carbon products in public, and this raises significant concerns about whether carbon labelling can genuinely work as an enabling factor. We make some suggestions about how we might raise the recognition value of carbon labels.

Idealism and Pragmatism: Pedagogy and the Design of a Sustainable Agriculture

Feeding the citizens of sustainable cities will require multiple approaches to sustainable agriculture. This will necessitate an increased reliance on local and regional crops and the development of diverse options—moving away from monoculture practices toward a diverse permaculture approach. The vision of an established and progressive couple returning to live upon their family’s multi-generational farmland, Friluftsliv Farm, will become a pedagogical prototype of sustainable rural living within the north-central United States. Seeking professional assistance in the design and development of this innovative research facility, it was determined that a project of such magnitude required the employment of a unique design process suited to the breadth and depth of the mission. To that end, the couple was directed to faculty at North Dakota State University with backgrounds in sustainable design and a familiarity with alternative agricultural practices. The resulting design is the consequence of a number of trans-disciplinary and participatory interactions drawing from multiple sources of inspiration and a variety of pedagogical exercises—all resulting in a very real farmstead/dwelling.

Conceptualizing Human Admiration for Nature in Human-impacted Environments

Western admiration of nature in human-inhabited environments is historically different from admiration of nature in wilderness environments. This paper looks at the history of admiration and argues that the split is now a hindrance rather than help in moving forward to a unified conception of nature’s relationship to humanity. In its place I argue for human-impacted environments as ethical stakeholders using models of communication that suggest nature might have systemic and active abilities to elicit human admiration.