Sustainable Consumption

Between 2007 and 2012 I worked closely with Tesco through the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester developing psychological insights into consumer attitudes and behaviour with the ultimate goal to make consumers’ shopping habits more sustainable. The University received £25M of funding from Tesco to establish this institute. My research explored the implicit attitudes of consumers and used techniques like eye-tracking to investigate how consumers process environmental information, such as carbon footprint, on products.

Although people say that they have very positive attitudes towards the environment, measures of implicit attitudes, which are largely unconscious, are not nearly so positive but are better predictors of actual behaviour in many situations. People seem to be ‘dissociated’ when it comes to the environment and understanding this state could be crucial to changing their behaviour. A major part of this research involved the development and refinement of various implicit measures of attitude including the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure unconscious attitudes to things like carbon footprint, and eye tracking techniques to measure individual fixation points 25 times per second when consumers look at products, in order to measure core values. The research also considered in detail how we might go about changing how people think and feel about climate change.

This research was viewed as highly original and significant and central to the success of the SCI (and to the continuation of the funding from Tesco). This led to many invitations to present this work, firstly to a number of divisions of Tesco itself, including the Executive Board, their Marketing Division, their Sustainability Division etc, as well as The Marketing Society, both houses of parliament (through the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum), DEFRA, the Central Office of Information (the COI), Procter & Gamble (including a major presentation at P&G’s Innovation Centre in Brussels) and Unilever (with presentations on risk perception to their global team in New York (twice), Tokyo and Berlin).

Selected Publications

Beattie, G. & McGuire, L. (2020).
The modifiability of implicit attitudes to carbon footprint and its implications for carbon choice.
Environment and Behavior

Beattie, G. & McGuire, L. (2018)
The Psychology of Climate Change.
London: Routledge

McGuire, L. & Beattie, G. (2019)
Talking green and acting green are two different things: An experimental investigation of low carbon choices.
Semiotica, 227, 99-125.

Beattie, G., Marselle, M., McGuire, L., & Litchfield, D. (2017)
Staying over-optimistic about the future: Uncovering attentional biases to climate change messages.
Semiotica, 218, 22-64.

Power, N., Beattie, G. & McGuire, L. (2017)
Mapping our underlying cognitions and emotions about good environmental behaviour. Why we fail to act despite the best of intentions.
Semiotica, 215, 195-234.

McGuire, L. & Beattie, G. (2016)
Consumers and climate change. Can the presence of others promote more sustainable consumer choice?
The International Journal of Environmental Sustainability.12, 33-56.

Beattie, G. & McGuire, L. (2016)
Consumption and climate change. Why we say one thing but do another in the face of our greatest threat.
Semiotica, 213, 493-538.

Beattie, G. & McGuire, L. (2015)
Harnessing the unconscious mind of the consumer: How implicit attitudes predict pre-conscious visual attention to carbon footprint information on products.
Semiotica, 204, 253-290.

Beattie, G & McGuire, L. (2014)
The psychology of consumption: or why we don’t do what we say.
In Ulph, A. and Southerton, D. Sustainable Consumption: Multidisciplinary Perspectives
London: Oxford University Press

Beattie, G. (2012)
How effective is carbon labelling for the consumer?
Nature Climate Change 2: 214-217

Beattie, G. & McGuire, L. (2012)
See no evil? Only implicit attitudes predict unconscious eye movements towards images of climate change.
Semiotica 192: 315-339

Beattie, G. (2011)
Making an action film. Do films such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth really make any difference to how we think and feel about climate change?
Nature Climate Change 1: 372-374

Beattie, G. & Sale, L. (2011)
Shopping to save the planet? Implicit rather than explicit attitudes predict low carbon footprint consumer choice.
The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability 7: 211-232

Beattie, G. & McGuire, L. (2011)
Are we too optimistic to bother saving the planet? The relationship between optimism, eye gaze and negative images of climate change.
The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability 7: 241-256

Beattie, G., Sale, L., & McGuire, L. (2011)
An Inconvenient Truth? Can extracts of film really affect our psychological mood and our motivation to act against climate change?
Semiotica 187: 105-126

Beattie, G. & Sale, L. (2011)
Psychology. In D. Southerton (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture.
London: Sage

Beattie, G. (2010)
Why Aren’t We Saving the Planet? A Psychologist’s Perspective. Read more >
London: Routledge

Beattie, G. McGuire, L. & Sale, L. (2010)
Do we actually look at the carbon footprint of a product in the initial few seconds? An experimental analysis of unconscious eye movements.
The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic & Social Sustainability 6: 47-65

Beattie, G. & Sale, L. (2009)
Explicit and implicit attitudes to low and high carbon footprint products
The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic & Social Sustainability 5: 191-206

There is a significant proportion of 'green fakers' out there, who explicitly and consciously espouse green attitudes, but whose implicit and unconscious attitude appears to be at odds with their publicly expressed attitude.

Geoff Beattie