Since 1970s, a new wave of consumer activism which is termed ‘alternative consumerism’ has occurred and developed (Gabriel and Lang, 2006). In this wave, consumers are increasingly aware of issues like fair trade, human rights, animal welfare, organic food, ethics, and environment. Among these elements, ethics are the most highly concerned. Ethical consumption refers to buying eco-friendly and fairly traded goods which have no harm to human beings, animals and environment, while refusing to purchase from companies that behave unethically (Cherrier, 2007). Nowadays more and more consumers tend to involve ethical considerations in purchase decisions. Generally speaking, consumers favor and purchase ethical products, while punish and boycott unethical ones (Carrigan and Attala, 2001). It is clear that ethical issues have significantly influenced purchase decisions, and greatly affected consumer behaviours as a result (Szmigin, Carrigan and McEachern, 2009).
Consequently, it is important to understand how ethics have an impact on contemporary consumer culture. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the three ways that ethics affect consumption. The paper firstly explores how ethical issues environment, human rights and animal welfare affect consumption decision making. Furthermore, with ethical concerns, how consumers translate the attitude to action. Then this paper analyses what other factors have an impact on purchase decisions. Finally, the author concludes that ethics have an increasing influence on contemporary consumer culture. However, ethics are not the dominated element. Nowadays, consumers take ethics, price, value, quality and convenience into account jointly when they make consumption decision.
The fourth wave of consumer activism highlights the significance of green consumption, which refers to consuming goods and services with pro-environment claims (Akenji, 2013). Green consumption has become increasing popular since consumers are more aware of the environmental problems. Green consumers can contribute to the environment in many ways, such as purchasing eco-friendly goods, while resisting the use of unattainable products (Gabriel and Lang, 2006). It is proved that the consumption choices of green consumers affect the production of companies to a large extent. As a result, in order to satisfy consumers’ need and avoid criticism, contemporary companies devote to creating green products (Pelsmacker, Drisen and Rayp, 2005). There are wide ranges of green products, such as carbon footprint label food, fair trade coffee, dolphin-free tuna, organic food, petrol-electricity hybrid car, energy efficient machines etc. It is predicted that ‘green’ products will be the trend in the near future.
As is known, global warming is one of the most prominent environmental problems. The major cause of global warming is the release of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide emissions from modern factories. To control and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the concept of carbon footprint, which is defined as “the measurement of the total greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by a person, organization, event or product”, is introduced and widely spread (Carbon Trust, 2014). Among all carbon footprint products, food is the most closely related to consumers. An investigation in Chile indicates that consumers hold a positive attitude towards the concept of carbon footprint. Chilean consumers consider they have the responsibility to prevent global warming and they would like to purchase products with low green house gases emissions. Respondents state they are willing to pay a premium of 29% to fluid milk with low carbon footprint value (Echeverrı´a et al., 2014). Despite the economic depression, many consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly goods. This reflects the ethical issue environment protection has impact on