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Images of Responsible Consumers: Organizing the Marketing of Sustainability

Journal article
Authors Christian Fuentes
Published in International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management
Volume 43
Issue 4-5
Pages 367-385
ISSN 0959-0552
Publication year 2015
Published at Centre for Retailing
Centre for Business in Society
Centre for Consumer Science
Pages 367-385
Language en
Keywords Consumer, Marketing, Practice theory, Marketing-as-practice, Sustainable, Qualitative method, Images
Subject categories Business Administration


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine and explain what organizes the marketing of retail sustainability. Design/methodology/approach – Theoretically, this paper takes a marketing-as-practice approach and makes use of practice theory to conceptualize the marketing of sustainability. Methodologically, an ethnographic study of three Swedish retail chains and their marketing work has been conducted. Interviews with management, observations made at the stores of these three retailers and various marketing texts and images produced by these retailers form the material analysed. Findings – This paper illustrates three different ways of marketing and enacting sustainability. It shows that sustainability is framed differently and, indeed, enacted differently in order to fit various ideas about who are the responsible consumers. The argument is that rather than consumer demand, supply pressure or media scandals, the marketing of sustainability is in each of the cases studied configured around a specific notion of the responsible consumer. What sustainability work is marketed, through which devices it is marketed, and how it is framed is guided by an idea of whom the retailers’ responsible consumers are, what their lifestyles are, and what they will be interested in. Images of responsible consumers work as configuring agents around which retailing activities and devices are organized. Originality/value – The paper provides an in-depth analysis of the marketing of sustainability and offers a new explanation about what it is that influences the various approach to sustainable marketing taken by retailers.

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