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Images of responsible consumers: organizing the marketing of sustainability

Christian Fuentes (Department of Service Management, Lund University, Helsingborg, Sweden; AND Centre for Consumer Science, University of Gothenburg, Göteborg, Sweden)

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 11 May 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine and explain what organizes the marketing of retail sustainability.


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.


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.


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.



This study has been conducted as part of the research project “Green Shops: sustainable retailing and value creating practices” 2011-2013 financed by The Swedish Retail and Wholesale Development Council.


Fuentes, C. (2015), "Images of responsible consumers: organizing the marketing of sustainability", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 43 No. 4/5, pp. 367-385.



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