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Social (im)possibilities of the formation of ethical consumption: A comparative study of Sweden and Iran

About this project

Project information

Project status

In progress 2021 - 2023


Sara Karimzadeh

Research subject

Research environments

This project (ECIRSWE) founded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101022789, studies how different societies develop different forms of ethical consumption. Sara Karimzadeh and Magnus Boström from Örebro University collaborated on this project from 2021 to 2023. While the project is currently in its concluding phase, additional results are still in the process of being published.

What is this project about?
The primary objective of this project is to explore the social, structural and cultural factors that either facilitate or hinder the development of ethical consumption. Ethical consumption refers to responsible consumption practices, wherein individuals consider both the origin of the product or service they intend to purchase and also its potential impact on society and the environment. Concerns are addressed through a range of practices, including supporting products and services that demonstrate responsibility toward the environment and the well-being of communities (referred to as buycotting), refraining from supporting those that disregard environmental sustainability, fair labour practices, and the rights of both humans and animals (known as boycotting).

In this project, we were interested in understanding how these concerns and subsequent actions come into existence and progress within societies. Do different social structures, which include diverse regulations, policies, markets, availability, norms, and cultures, exert different influences on the shaping and execution of these concerns? And if so, through which mechanisms? Is what's defined as 'ethical consumption' in the literature of consumption studies a comprehensive representation of various interpretations of consumption ethics among people in different societies? 

To address these questions, we studied ethical consumption in Sweden and Iran. Why these two countries? Previous studies indicate high levels of ‘ethical consumption’ in Sweden, like in many other ‘Western’ countries whereas they struggle with higher impacts of overconsumption in terms of climate and ecological footprints. In many non-western societies, such as Iran, there are few investigations into 'ethical consumption.' Consequently, there is limited knowledge about the potential of this phenomenon and whether there are other variants of ethical consumption that have not been addressed in previous research. Since much of our understanding of ‘ethical consumption’ primarily reflects the conditions of consumers in Europe and North America, this project accordingly sought to benefit from cross-national comparison.

Results and Publications
We initially developed a theoretical framework aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of ethical consumption practices. This framework allowed us to extend our analysis beyond the influence of micro-level factors on the shaping of ethical consumption in everyday life. Instead, our focus was on investigating how structural factors either constrain or facilitate ethical consumption practices. This framework was introduced in an article titled “Ethical consumption: why should we understand it as a social practice within a multilevel framework?” in the Open Research Europe journal. 

Read the full article here  

In another paper titled “Ethical consumption in three stages: a focus on sufficiency and care”, we conceptually argue that ethical consumption could potentially play a crucial role in changing consumption culture due to the connections that it has to concepts such as sufficiency and care.

To make it clearer, we propose looking at ethical consumption in three stages: pre-consumption (planning and decision-making stage), consumption stage (buying and using), and post-consumption stage which refers to the stage that you want to dispose of or hand over a commodity. This way, we can see the bigger picture and understand why it's crucial to not only refine but also reduce our consumption. The paper stresses the importance of fostering a culture of responsibility and a genuine concern for others, be it people, materials, or nature. It's about creating a mindset that goes beyond just buying and using things – it's about understanding the impact of our choices on the world around us. By adopting this broader perspective, we can uncover both the potential benefits and challenges of ethical consumption.

Read the full article here


The empirical findings of the study are scheduled to be published in the coming weeks.

Research funding bodies

  • European Commission