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EMAC 2022 Annual

The relative importance of environmental aspects vs. social aspects in defining sustainability vs. driving consumer boycott behavior

Published: May 24, 2022


Ole Schacht, Ghent University; Bert Weijters, Ghent University; Berre Deltomme, Ghent University; Frank Goedertier, Vlerick Business School; Joeri Van den Bergh, InSites Consulting


Companies increasingly include sustainability claims in their marketing and communication towards customers. Often firms assume that these customers have a non-ambiguous understanding of sustainability and suppose that the environmental dimension is the dominant consumer association. Using CFA applied to cross-national data from 7 countries, we find that consumers meaningfully distinguish social and environmental aspects when defining sustainability. Our results show that the environmental dimension is key but that the importance gap between both dimensions declines when consumers identify reasons to boycott brands. As consumer boycotts are an increasingly trending phenomenon, we show that social sustainability facets are important drivers of consumer boycotts. Based on our results, we conclude that firms that set sustainability priorities based on how they think consumers define sustainability might misfire, as social aspects might be underestimated as key drivers of boycott behavior.