This study investigates why students engage with green consumption and how it affects their attitudes towards sustainability and their perception of self. Using in-depth interviews (n=12) with a theoretical sample of students at an elite liberal arts college, the study found that the consumption of perceived environmentally sustainable products (i.e. eco-labeled products) may not be as conscious of a decision as the literature theorizes. The sample was split into four consumer groups along an eco-conscious buyer spectrum organized according to the frequency with which students purchased eco-labeled products and why. The lowest consumers on the spectrum rarely or never purchase eco-labeled products because they are disinterested in them (n=3). The lower-middle consumer group is composed of students who sometimes purchase eco-labeled products due to unintentional overlap with their individual needs, but they explicitly refute the efficacy of shopping to be sustainable (n=2). The upper-middle consumer group sometimes purchases eco-labeled products not because of a lack of desire, but because they have developed other pro-environmental behaviors that are more affordable for them (n=5). The highest consumers on the spectrum frequently purchase eco-labeled products but they do so more as an unintentional byproduct of their individual tastes (n=2). This study contributes to the scarce literature on whether green consumers perceive their purchases as efficacious in mitigating the climate crisis and presents a notable finding: students across the board are disbelieving of the impact that eco-labeled products have on the larger climate change movement. However, over half of the students also believe that if they stopped purchasing eco-labeled products, their self-perception of their moral character and identity would change. These findings suggest that future research should investigate the relationship between the perceived lack of efficacy that green consumers have about their purchases and the profound impact that these products have on some people’s perceptions of their morality and identity coherence. More broadly, this study also demonstrates that trying to mitigate climate change from the lens of changing individuals’ consumption behaviors is not an effective approach and distracts from the responsibility that should be on corporations with systemic power.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Stephen Ellingson

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.