Who is reducing their material consumption and why? A cross-cultural analysis of dematerialization behaviours

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The environmental and economic imperatives to dematerialize economies, or 'do more with less', have been established for some years. Yet, to date, little is known about the personal drivers associated with dematerializing. This paper explores the prevalence and profile of those who are taking action to reduce consumption in different cultural contexts (UK and Brazil) and considers influences on dematerialization behaviours. We find that exemplar behaviours (avoiding buying new things and avoiding packaging) are far less common than archetypal environmental behaviours (e.g. recycling), but also that cultural context is important (Brazilians are more likely to reduce their material consumption than people in the UK). We also find that the two dematerialization behaviours are associated with different pro-environmental actions (more radical action versus green consumption, respectively); and have distinct, but overlapping, psychological (e.g. identity) and socio-demographic (e.g. education) predictors. Comparing a more traditional value-identity model of pro-environmental behaviour with a motivation-based (self-determination) model, we find that the latter explains somewhat more variance than the former. However, overall, little variance is explained, suggesting that additional factors at the personal and structural levels are important for determining these consumption behaviours. We conclude by outlining policy implications and avenues for further research. This article is part of the themed issue 'Material demand reduction'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160376
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2095
Early online date1 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2017


  • Behaviour
  • Cross-cultural
  • Dematerialization
  • Identity
  • Self-determination
  • Values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Mathematics
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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