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Published: 26 Feb, 2021

Finding sustainable solutions takes a whole team of people

PROFILE Business administration researcher Johan Jansson studies the norms and attitudes that drive more environmentally sustainable consumption.

Text: Elin Andersson

Since 2020, Johan Jansson is professor of business administration specialising in marketing at the Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics. His research revolves around norms and attitudes towards sustainability. What makes certain groups of consumers adopt ‘green’ innovations such as electric cars faster than others despite the higher cost and complexity due to charging stations being scarce and lower driving range than conventional cars?

“I want to be a part of finding solutions to build a more sustainable world. And in that ambition, I find it interesting to look at the consumers who pave the way and have such a strong environmental conviction that they are willing to pay more for a greener product, although it means they have to change their habits and behaviour to obtain a more sustainable lifestyle. Individuals who possess a strong conviction that something is better for the environment often tend to act in line with those convictions – particularly if they correspond well with social norms, i.e. what is believed to be good and right based on how others talk and act.”

I find it interesting to look at the consumers who have such a strong environmental conviction that they are willing to pay more for a greener product, although it means they have to change their habits to obtain a more sustainable lifestyle.

Factors influencing the choice of car

When Johan Jansson has looked deeper into why someone chooses to buy an electric car, Johan Jansson can see links between environmental values and curiosity for new products.

“Attitudes have a great impact on the choice of what car to buy, and consumers who are quick to choose new environmental products we often call green innovators. They often possess more environmentally-friendly values and norms than the average population and are also interested in new innovations and products across the board. Additionally, we have seen that the influence of others also plays a part. One of our studies showed that if your neighbours, colleagues and close friends own a so-called green car, you were more prone to own one yourself. Emotions shouldn’t be underestimated either. Several of our studies have shown that expected positive emotions such as joy, pride and excitement also tend to affect choices of such a complex product as an electric car. If insights on norms are combined with feelings, it becomes clear that many consumers act in environmentally friendly ways based upon both the nice feeling of doing the right thing and also being able to make a difference to the bigger picture.”

Showing support and learning from mistakes

After his PhD in 2009, Johan Jansson has worked at the School of Management Studies at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and at the Lund University School of Economics and Management before returning to Umeå University with a professorship.

I find it important, despite the difficulties, to try and convey insights from mistakes that you made yourself, so others can hopefully avoid them.

“As a professor, it’s important to be a mentor to other, often younger, researchers. You need to offer support in applications and publications, and take on a leading role when necessary. I also find it important, despite the difficulties, to try and convey insights from mistakes that you made yourself, so others can hopefully avoid them. It inspires me to see students, doctoral students and colleagues succeed in both research and other aspects. Having a small role in influencing someone to choose to focus their career on, for instance, sustainability is a reward in itself.”

Transitioning to a greener society requires more than just insights from the research community, if you ask Johan Jansson.

“All parts of society need to work actively with sustainability. For instance, culture plays an important role in the transition. I read a lot, both fiction, non-fiction and popular science. New ideas and solutions to problems can be found in the most unexpected places, and I never stop being amazed at all the ways knowledge can be spread. As more and more people now realise the great challenges now and ahead on this planet, many authors of fiction are now writing committed and fact-filled books about problems as well as solutions. I like that. Finding solutions for a sustainable society takes a whole team of people.”