The sustainability and the role of the mass media: representation, values and behaviours among consumers in Italy

Russo, Vincenzo and Milani, Laura and Re, Anna and Crescentini, Alberto and Sciangula, Cinzia (2012) The sustainability and the role of the mass media: representation, values and behaviours among consumers in Italy. In: International Proceedings of Economics Development and Research 2nd International Conference on Social Science and Humanity, March 10-11 2012, Singapore.

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Sustainability is nowadays a relevant issue that received in the last few years a growing attention from scholars and practitioners. Sustainability is a broad topic that concerns not only institutional policies and corporate choices, but also ordinary people consumption behaviours; in particular, food-choice is strongly connected to sustainability. Among consumers there is a weak knowledge of the subject, the very word "sustainability" takes on different meanings and values for consumers/citizens. This paper aims at discussing the relationship between communication and the representation of sustainability and the connection between sustainability and the food consumption behaviour. The analysis was carried out through qualitative and quantitative surveys investigating the meaning of sustainability on a representative sample of Italian consumers, with a particular focus on food choices. Following a qualitative investigation using semistructured qualitative interviews with projective techniques (Okamoto, 2006) and focus group discussions, a questionnaire was developed and administered to a representative sample of adult consumers and young consumers: two quantitative surveys were conducted in 2010 and 2011 with involvement (in the first survey) about one thousand people aged between 18 and 65 years, and (in the second survey) with the involvement of 1000 young people aged between 18 and 30 years. The aims of the questionnaire, according to the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajizen, 1991), was to analyse the meaning attributed to sustainability, and the awareness and concern on the issue, and the actual "sustainable consumption". Comparing the data to the representation of sustainability (since 1992) in media communication and the effects on the attitudes of the young people can detect the presence of the existence of a "sustainable generation" influenced by the way in which communication has addressed the issue of sustainability. Moreover, the quantitative analysis allowed us to identify the variables identifying a consumer "sustainable". The results show that there is a general inconsistency between common knowledge, beliefs, opinions, declared values and behaviours acted out. The consumers act in different and contradictory way if compared to what they say they want to do; often their opinions and attitudes are contradictory; the declared awareness of the role of sustainability does not always coincide with the habits and behaviour of consumers. From the review of the literature and the document published about the wide theme of sustainability, it emerges the centrality and importance of information, communication affecting the construction of social reality (Goleman, 2009). In particular, the Internet is the best channel for the collection and acquisition of general or specific information about sustainable of the products and the companies; social media are recognized the most effective tools available, as they break down geographical boundaries and allow an active participation of the consumer on the sustainable choices; the traditional media are viewed with suspicion because they are not independent and tied to economic and political interests; personal relationships, family and friends, are considered the most reliable source of information, as invested with a high degree of confidence (word of mouth). The television is not considered a credible source of information. This study allowed us to compare the way in which scientific communication and public communication have been addressed the issue of sustainability in Italy across the years. The results allow identifying some communication strategies in order to promote the sustainability knowledge and practices among consumer behaviour.

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