Karl C. Alorbi
The Disadvantaged Consumer and Sustainable Consumer Products: A Conceptual Framework
The Disadvantaged Consumer and Sustainable Consumer Products: A Conceptual Framework Karl C. Alorbi Saint Peter’s University Father Arrupe, in his seminal address in 1973 challenged us to do more to address the needs of those at the margins of society. This paper argues that in the consumer driven economy those who are referred to as the ‘disadvantaged consumer’ are similar in ‘character’ to those Father Arrupe referred to in his address. The paper introduces a conceptual framework that seeks to argue that the disadvantaged consumer (and not the vulnerable consumer) will end up as the laggard when new and more sustainable consumer products that are also safer, better and less costly are introduced at the market place. Although many new sustainable consumer products are launched to replace less environmentally friendly ones the disadvantaged consumers will most likely continue to buy the less old products. This may be so because disadvantaged consumers make purchase decisions out of economic necessity rather than choice (Halstead, Jones and Cox, 2007). They are therefore likely to continue to patronize the products that do more damage to the environment. They also shop less widely for bargains, and they do not look for alternative products ( Caplovitz, 1963; Andreasen, 1976; Viswanathan, Harris and Rosa, 2005). In many cases they patronize retail channels like flea markets, goodwill stores, and pre-owned or second hand shops (Williams, 2003) where the more affluent in society dispose of less environmentally friendly products. The disadvantaged consumers include groups such as the poor, the elderly, minorities, the homeless, and illiterates. Andreasen (1993) argues that recent migrants (especially from developing to developed countries) must be added to the pool of the disadvantaged. Others he suggested include the physically handicapped and ethnic minorities. The key insight of the study illustrates how sustainability will negatively impact the disadvantaged consumer. It also suggests ways that businesses can minimize the unintended effects on the poor, the marginalized and the voiceless. Key Words: Disadvantaged Consumer, Vulnerable Consumer, Sustainability, Sustainable Consumer Products, Bottom of the Pyramid.