The Shadow of the Consumer

Graham Bullock recently co-published an article with Hamish van der Ven in Organization and Environment on The Shadow of the Consumer: Analyzing the Importance of Individual Consumers to the Impacts of Ratings, Certifications, and Eco-Labels.” The authors explore the question of why market uptake and sophistication of information-based environmental governance (IBEG) programs like eco-labeling have increased despite mixed signals on the willingness and ability of individual consumers to support such programs? They argue that the literature on IBEG focuses too narrowly on individual consumer purchasing decisions to the exclusion of other mechanisms through which consumers, both as individuals and as an imagined collective, exert influence.

As a corrective, the article presents a new conceptual framework that highlights the different causal mechanisms through which consumers contribute to the uptake and sophistication of IBEG. This framework is framed as “the shadow of the consumer,” as it suggests a more latent and indirect role for consumers than only voting-with-one’s-wallet. The analysis adds nuance to accounts of consumer agency vis-à-vis environmental ratings, standards, certifications, and eco-labels and helps explain the proliferation and growing sophistication of such programs despite the variability of individual consumer support.

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