“Green Consumption” in Rio de Janeiro: A Comparative Study between Generations Y and Z

London Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences
Volume | Issue | Compilation
Authored by Giselle Ferreira , Fred Tavares, Eliane Monteiro de Almeida, Jéssica Ventura
Classification: FOR Code: 059999
Keywords: green consumer, generation Y and Z, consumption, rio de Janeiro.
Language: English

This paper discusses the buying behavior of generations Y and Z related to eco-friendly products or “green products” under the logic of the consumer society. The analysis was executed by members of the research group “Rizoma verde” of the graduate program of the Psychology Institute of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (PPG/EICOS/UFRJ). The methodology is qualitative and exploratory, carried out from a fieldwork, with interviews held on 25th and 26th of November 2017, during the Black Friday event and the following day at exits of malls in the northern and southern area of Rio de Janeiro. The theoretical basis is grounded in concepts presented by Zygmunt Bauman, Néstor Canclini, and Gilles Lipovetsky. This study features inherent attributes of generations Baby Boomer, X, Y, and Z, highlighting profoundly the behaviors of generations Y and Z. The data analysis of these generations indicates an equal perception, knowledge, and expectation regarding the consumption of eco-friendly products and the environment. However, both generations do not prioritize the purchase because of the environment features; instead, they want a cost/benefit ratio.

               

“Green Consumption” in Rio de Janeiro: A Comparative Study between Generations                    Y and Z

Giselle Gama Torres Ferreiraα, Fred Tavaresσ, Eliane Monteiro de Almeidaρ                                 & Jéssica VenturaѠ

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  1. ABSTRACT

This paper discusses the buying behavior of generations Y and Z related to eco-friendly products or “green products” under the logic of the consumer society. The analysis was executed by members of the research group “Rizoma verde” of the graduate program of the Psychology Institute of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (PPG/EICOS/UFRJ). The methodology is qualitative and exploratory, carried out from a fieldwork, with interviews held on 25th and 26th of November 2017, during the Black Friday event and the following day at exits of malls in the northern and southern area of Rio de Janeiro. The theoretical basis is grounded in concepts presented by Zygmunt Bauman, Néstor Canclini, and Gilles Lipovetsky. This study features inherent attributes of generations Baby Boomer, X, Y, and Z, highlighting profoundly the behaviors of generations Y and Z. The data analysis of these generations indicates an equal perception, knowledge, and expectation regarding the consumption of eco-friendly products and the environment. However, both generations do not prioritize the purchase because of the environment features; instead, they want a cost/benefit ratio.

Keywords: green consumer, generation Y and Z, consumption, rio de janeiro.

  1. INTRODUCTION

“Liquid Modernity” [1] – which serves as a background for thinking about the Consumer Society – is in itself twofold [2] as subjects show buying behaviors which are paradoxical and ambiguous. This new consumer order unveils tendencies marked by egoical, individualist, consumeristic, and hedonistic features [3] while it multiplies consumers involved with ethical and socio- environmental responsibility issues. Thus, in a consumers society [4], in which consuming is a moral duty [5], the “green consumption” receives public exposure in the global scenario.

Considering this thought, this study aims at examining the “green” consumption behavior with a focus on generations Y and Z through an exploratory research. We must mention the relevance of this choice regarding the public as the object of research, bearing in mind the consumption potential of eco-friendly product observed herein [2].

The justification lies in the perspective that citizenship is closely related to the “consumer identity” [5] and, in this process, there is the development of a whole market  devoted to the consumption of eco-friendly products, or namely “green products” [2, 6]. In this perspective, we can observe therefore the involvement of green consumers with the transformation of sustainability in a commodity, especially in this paper, by consumers pertaining to generations Y and Z.

For this, the methodology of this research is based on the studies produced by Zygmunt Bauman, Néstor Canclini, and Gilles Lipovetsky – among others related to them – through a bibliographic research for the theoretical foundation, using the discussion about the new consumer order that rules the contemporary society as a central point. The data observed were collected through a qualitative research at exits of the main malls presented in the northern and southern area of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Structured questionnaires were employed in order to exam the consumption behavior of this public.

Thus, this study questions: what is the role of “Liquid Modernity” as a background for educating generations devoted more and more to a new consumer order that favors capital expansion?

  1. THEORETICAL BASIS

3.1  Consumer society and postmodernity: from solid to liquid

Marked by several changes, contemporaneity started to be related to consumption from new views. Inherent to postmodernity, these transformations disclosed not only rupture with the old social, cultural, economic and environmental structures but also the end of the standardization, certainties, and stability of social institutions. Bauman

[1] interpreted these changes as the end of “Solid Modernity.” In his perspective, there is a liquefaction of institutions, which continues in constant change under the logic of “Liquid Modernity.”

Bauman [4] discuss the founding or industrial phase of society, which he called “producers society” that is succeeded by a “consumers society.” The latter is unstable and fluid, characterized by the consumption that has the market itself as background. The “durable”, a value feature before, loses its importance to substitute the desire for the new. There is a new meaning of the process of disposal, which becomes simplified in a life arranged to and for consumption that occurs through seduction, ever-growing desire, and volatile wishes [4].

Dialoguing to Bauman, Lipovetsky [3] outlines the volatility of fashion, addressing the sacralization process of inherent aspects of change, pleasures and novelties in a society devoted to consumption. The consumer life revolves around the desire, pleasure-seeking moments, but always in the realm of uncertainty and insecurity. Thus, under this perspective, there is an idea of a mobile subjectivity [7] that is grounded in the desire to consume perpetuated by the volatility. In effect, commercial brands work as an alibi of the transforming and ephemeral nature [3] of consumption, which is represented as a kind of civilization of brands.

Adding to the concepts of Bauman and Lipovetsky, Canclini [5] demonstrates the consumption as a socio- political arrangement, since he understands desires under a perspective of socially regulated demands and actions. In his view, since there is the “politicization” of consumption, both individually and collectively, the citizen becomes the consumer. Citizenship has now a new meaning. Being citizen is related to the identity of the consumer: “it is in this game between desires and structures that commodities and consumption work also to arrange politically each society” [5, p. 83].

Additionally, Bauman [8] argues about the issue of strengthening the private sphere rather than the public power, since the Nation-State becomes politically fragile (as a social actor) and financial conglomerates dominate the market in a political way. Corporations fulfill the role of regulators of the market in which, according to Canclini [5], the action of consuming becomes less and less a right or a pleasure, converting itself in a citizen “duty”. When there is an analysis about the “politicization” of consumption, being a citizen means first and foremost being a consumer [5]. Desires are socially regulated actions presented in the form of consumption. The “consumers society”, discussed by Bauman [4], generates the “citizen-consumer”, which is shaped for consumption from a new social order regulated by the market so the capital can expand.

With the objective of unveiling the process of constructing new ways of consumption, we should note that individuals from different generations were affected in their characteristics and consumption habits, in the context of the transition from solid modernity to liquid modernity, under the lens of consumer society. As a result, from the insights of the above authors – especially Lipovetsky [3], who supports the rise of a “juvenile” culture, associated to the baby boom and the purchasing power of young people – we can question: what is the role of generations, chiefly generations Y and Z regarding the production and reproduction of consumption process nowadays?

3.2 Consumer society: A few insights about intergenerational issues

Within the logic of Consumer Society, in order to exam the buying behavior of generations Y and Z, a brief analysis of previous generations is necessary: Baby Boomers and X; and the following: the generation Z.

Regarding Baby Boomers, although there is a level of dissent, some authors consider those people born between 1948-1963; generation X are people born between 1964- 1977; generation Y, people born between 1978-1994 [9]; and finally generation Z refers to those people born after 1995 [10].

The emergence of a new consumption order, which favors capital expansion, confirms the importance to exam these generations in the formation process and social, cultural, economic, and historical transformation. Solomon

[11] responds to this perspective when he argues that individuals of the same age group tend to share a set of values and common cultural experiences which are kept throughout their lives.

Conger [12] mentions that Baby Boomers are composed of individuals that saw World War II, and their education was guided by strict values based on disciplinary rules. According to him, this generation is concerned about job stability and not necessarily the fight for rights. Raines [13] adds to this vision saying that this generation is characterized by following fads and the ability to adapt to different types of organizations.

In turn, for Lombardia [14], generation X does not have so strict standards, even though they have a degree of conservatism in some aspects. This generation lived in a scenario with many historical milestones, besides technological expansion and the beginning of new social and consumption trends. Oliveira [15] says that this generation was in students movements: “This generation is guided by pragmatism and self-reliance in their choices, and they seek to promote equal rights and justice in their decisions” [15, p. 63]. Conger [12] sees generation X as representatives of the information technologies. Oliveira [15] agrees and argues that this generation was deeply affected by TV shows, mainly in the issues related to education and family routine. Raines [13] addresses the appreciation of work and the desire for success in their personal life.

Studied here with greater focus, Generation Y, Generation Next or Millennials, as Lombardia [14] demonstrates, are individuals who seek achievements, results. They are the children of generation X and so they were affected by the internet. They have issues related to revocability and mutability because of the excess of technologies, which enhances the feeling of freedom and security. According to Oliveira [15], the search for challenges and the keenness to quick progression in a career are the main features of generation Y. For Gonçalves [16, p.4], these people “[…] need reasons and encouragement to keep themselves on the job” and, for Engelmann [9], virtualization triggered the systemic thinking of this generation.

Given these points, generation Y is immersed in high technologies standards, comfort, and access to information. In general, those born in this generation have the following characteristics: ambitious, individualist, and unstable. The new subjectivities multiplied in this generation changed critically the relationships, reframing their order to  consume and act so it is possible to emerge new ways of being [17]. In the opinion of Sibilia [17], this generation can be understood from a great range of ways of being ruled by an identity mutation. As Baudrillard [18] argues, there is a multiplication of mobile subjectivities in a Consumer Society that is deeply influenced by publicity.

Generation Z – also an object of this research – is the most connected of all, as defended by Shiyashiki [19, p. 1): “they will start a tendency that will continue after them: the total integration with technology,” as they have been raised with changes in information technologies. Lancaster and Stillman [10] agreed with this vision and defend that this generation has direct contact with internet, cell phones, and all the new media that constantly arise. Thus, there is an amplified dependence of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, among others, so the virtual communication is favored, combining online and offline media (for instance, television).

Therefore, they are interconnected to new technologies, and at the same time, they are consumerist, individualist, impatient, anxious, and contradictory.

As shown above, this study aims to understand how the behavior of people of generations Y and Z, in the logic of “Liquid Modernity”, would influence the consumption of eco-friendly products: trademark modeling or green consumption?

3.3 Liquid nature: ecological trademark modeling or responsible green consumption?

Tavares e Ferreira [20] state that “[…] up to mid-1980- 1990, talking about responsible consumption was not a priority. Eco-friendly and socially correct products and services were very hard to find” [20, p. 27). However, affected by the consequences of socio-environmental issues, the consumer starts to value the history of the organizations, which becomes quite often a relevant factor in the purchase decision [21]. Ottman [22] says that “[…] an expression of this big change is the growing number of consumers that reaches a decision about a brand based on the record of accomplishments related to environmental and social criteria [22, p. 23], and adds: “[…] we will be hearing more often from the consumers: is this a really green product?” [22, p. 21]. Stark [23] agrees with it and argues that “the behavior change of the consumers has brought focus to a growing number of companies, which are discovering strategic advantages of ecological marketing” [23, p. 89].

On the other hand, this new consumer profile can also show a conflicting consumption behavior that favors the logic of disposal and excess of garbage, through fragmented identities in which subjectivity is fluid, temporary, and floating [24]. As a result, many consumers ended up choosing “green” brands as a strategy of belonging and citizenship [6, 5] rather than the vision of responsible consumption.

Given the multiplication of new interpretations about the socio-environmental issue, we can observe a possible strategy of making the nature a product in this movement [25], under the condition of distinctive “brand” [26], encouraging the “Green Consumption” [24]. Tavares and Irving [6] warn that:

[...] nature has been assuming a market value, and it has been receiving a new meaning of commodity by other social actors, including NGOs and the State. Seemingly, this merchantilization occurs through the vision of a consumption qualified as “green”, which legitimates (and amplifies) the notion of sustainability as a differential and strategy of Ecopower [6, p.2).

Thus, a new consumption order reveals an offer of ecological products and services which embody “eco- friendly” values in this context. These new commodities, in turn, can work as trademark modeling [7] that produces and reproduces a new consumer profile that often and constantly buys things in a way of reassuring and reframing new ways of beings [17]. This “green” trademark modeling is in contrast with the ideal of Green Consumption [27] because they are mutable, revocable and liquid, that is, susceptible  to be undone at any moment. This duality brings about the paradox of capital expansion under the logic of the Consumer Society and of the need of restructuring the market following sustainable models.

Based on the theoretical foundation for the examination of the data collected over this study, we can now continue the research by showing the chosen methodology. From here on, analysis and conclusions on consumption behavior of generations Y and Z are presented, through the lens of this theoretical contour.

  1. METHODOLOGY

As this paper has the goal of examining the “green” consumption behavior of generations Y and Z, our basis is to perform a theoretical and empirical study of exploratory nature. Mattar [28] explains that “exploratory research is suitable for the first steps of investigation when familiarity, knowledge, and understanding of the phenomenon is, in general, little or non-existent” [28, p. 18] Aaker, Kumar, and Day [29] state that “exploratory research is used when you want an understanding of a general nature of the problem, the possible alternative hypothesis, and the relevant variables that need to be considered” [29, p. 94]. For Samara e Barros [30, p. 34], “exploratory studies have as the main features informality, flexibility, and creativity (…).”

Therefore, this study is built on a bibliographical search of works that focus on this object and a field research, through semi-structured questionnaires, following the methodological guidelines to be presented.

4.1  Methodological proceedings

Through a non-probability sampling for convenience, 100 questionnaires were applied at exits of malls located in the northern and southern area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Two days of interviews were performed with publics of generations Y and Z. Data were collected during the Black Friday sales promotion and the next day. The choice of non-probability sampling method is due to the fact that “the selection of elements of the population for the sample is depended at least in part of the perception of the researcher or of the field interviewer” [28, p. 137]. According to Mattar [28, p. 161], the choice of a non-probability sampling is suitable for the case of an exploratory research, where “the main goal is to gather knowledge about a subject, and there is no need of representativeness of the population in the collected information.”

Non-probability samples can be divided into three mains types: convenience, judgment, and quota sampling [28-30]. In this research, the most accessible members of the population were selected, which is a non-probability sample of convenience. Mattar [28] argues that this type of sampling is often used to test or gather ideas about a subject, so it suits well to the purposes of the exploratory research.

However, the non-probability sampling method has different limitations, mainly the convenience sampling, since it is not based on probability theory and it is less accurate in the selection of the sample. Therefore, it is not possible to make generalizations about a population under study. Conversely, this exploratory study allows greater knowledge about the subject so that further studies can expand the topic.

The selection of the questions to compose the data collection instrument and its order in the questionnaire were defined by the members of the research group Rizoma Verde (PPG/EICOS/ UFRJ) during a brainstorming in a previously performed step.

There was the concern about ethics during the research application. According to Samara e Barros [30], the research should be “performed in an honest and direct manner, without undesirable disturbance or disadvantage to the interviewed, and it should be based on voluntary co-operation” [30, p. 241].

It is worth hence noting that this fieldwork sought to take account of the interviewed rights. The ethical application of the field research involved the identification of all interviewers with an institutional badge, and the explanation of the project and its academic purposes to the interviewed beforehand. Besides, the participation was voluntary and anonymity was ensured.

Regarding bibliographic research, the theoretical foundation used to exam this study was developed through the concepts of liquid modernity, consumer society, and belonging, proposed by Zygmunt Bauman, Néstor Canclini, and Gilles Lipovetsky.

V.   RESULT ANALYSIS

In this research, 100 interviews were accomplished, with 50 interviews performed at exits of Nova América and Norte Shopping malls in the northern area, and 50 performed at exits of Rio Sul and Botafogo Praia Shopping malls in the southern area of Rio de Janeiro. This research was held on 25th and 26th of November 2017. Data collected from the sample generated some interesting insights about the consumer behavior of generations Y and Z. In this item, a general analysis of the results was carried out from the graphs produced by Google Forms tool, chiefly regarding “green” or “ecological” consumption [24]; and some relations with the theoretical basis could be established.

The focus of this research is aimed at examining the “green consumption” behavior of generations Y and Z. A big part of the sample was concentrated in the age group of 22-37, with 61% percentage of the public not identified by sex, as the purpose was to exam the consumption behavior of generations Y and Z. From the word cloud (figure 1), we can see clearly a preference as to electronic products, cell phones, and technology devices by generation Z, which means a generation interconnected in social media with consumerist and contradictory features, as mentioned earlier [19].

Figure 1: Purchasing preference of generation Z. Source: Created by the authors with the data collected (2017)

In terms of ecological “sustainability”, the highest percentage of concern was about the environment and nature, that is, “green products” [31]. As can be seen in the words cloud (figure 2), some words emerged in a row: “nature,” “planet,” “recycling,” and “ecologically,” showing that the “green” consumption behavior is in the consumer's mind even during the Black Friday days. Everything points out to the choice of a consumption qualified as “green”, which legitimizes (and amplifies) the notion of sustainability as distinctive and part of a strategy of “Ecopower” [6, p. 2].

Figure 2: “Sustainability” in the consumer's mind of generations Y and Z. Source: Created by the authors with the data collected (2017)

However, there is a paradox in the consumption behavior of generations Y and Z, since most respondents (89%) acknowledge that they rarely purchase sustainable products, which means paradoxical and ambiguous buying behavior, as argued by Lipovetsky [3], these are egoical, individualistic, consumerist, and hedonist features. It can also be seen as a “consumption politicization” or a “green” trademark modeling” [7]. And, according to the concepts showed in the theory review, it contrasts with the ideal of ecological consumption because they are mutable, revocable, and liquid, that is, susceptible of being undone at any moment.

Overall, concerning the factors considered by both generations when shopping especially during the Black Friday event, the research shows that 85% of the respondents checked the item price as the most relevant in the act of buying, while a few (8%) were concerned about ecological issues. As most respondents (61%) were of the generation Z, it can be observed that they went shopping because of the intense promotion in digital media on Black Friday products. It proves that generation Z, besides having a great dependence on social media as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, favors virtual communication rather than traditional communication, as said by Shiyashiki [19]. Other items with a total of 7% are respecting the brand, the style, and quality of products and services, not related to the ecological appeal. It can be discussed that both generations are interconnected with new technologies, and at the same time, they are consumerist, individualist, and dubious.

Moreover, when questioned if they have ever heard of eco-friendly products, most people (92%) from the southern area of Rio de Janeiro said yes, against just 8% of the poorer people of generation Y that lived in the north. Both generations are subjected to new subjectivities that change severely the relationships, giving a new meaning to the order to consume and the action of these individuals so it can emerge new ways of being and identity mutation [17].

Another paradoxical issue that arises in the research is that, although generation Z has direct contact with internet, cell phones, and digital media, as mentioned in the theoretical basis, television still plays a relevant role to inform the population about environmental matters, followed by other communication vehicles such as the internet, advertising campaigns, newspapers, and university/school. The same occurs with generation Y, confirming the TV as the major broadcaster of eco-friendly products. However, the consumer life revolves around the desire, pleasure-seeking moments, which are favorable to change, pleasures and novelties in a society devoted to consumption [3].

Most respondents consider that the words that best represents eco-friendly products are: “sustainable” and “recycled”, followed by “natural” and “wholesome.” Insights indicate thus that the consumption of “green products” by generations Y and Z can be associated to the need of additional motivational factors, such as products that “don’t cause harm to nature” or “is good for health.” This scenario seems to confirm the vision of Ottman [22], mainly when she points outs the fact that consumers will be more and more aware of the environmental issues concerning acquired products and services.

Likewise, Solomon [11] argues that individuals from the same age group tend to share their set of values and cultural experiences. As a form of investigating this new trend of “sustainable” consumption in the generation Y and Z, they were then asked  about  clothing swaps[1], and 69% of the sample did not show any knowledge of this kind of event. However, some part of the respondents who lived in small cities mentioned that they were a common practice in the squares of their hometowns. At the same time, they reported it as an interesting project since it reduces the consumerist impulse and also provides the recycling of products, generating fewer disposals. Most  people remarked that there is no exposure of such events and they supported this practice because it is a sustainable issue combined with financial savings.

In the end, they were asked about which entity best contributes to disseminating “green” or “ecological” products. Media were at first place with 40% of votes, being the major spreader of the cause. Others think that NGOs are responsible for it, followed by private companies, with 13% in the importance of socio- environmental responsibility. Smaller percentages were divided into “government liability” and “consumers.” This “network” tends to be set up through a rhizome, by which they influence themselves by means of a mutual agency for the development, creation, control, and production of a “green consumption” vision [31].

Overall, from the data analysis, it is possible to observe that perceptions, knowledge, and expectations regarding the environment and the consumption of eco-friendly products show the same consistency between generations Y and Z. However, both generations do not decide the purchase based on the environmental aspect, but on the product price or because they have a special appeal. This feature ends up meeting the needs that are presented in the psycho-social thinking about the socio-environmental issue, since the contemporary consumer, who is mistaken by a price choice, is lured by a “politicization” of the consumption [5], putting aside “ecological” or “green” products. Consequently, in a paradoxical manner, the postmodern subject shows a tendency to consumerism because of his/her revocable relationships, which end up taking him/her away from a deeper thought on the socio- environmental debate.

  1. FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

Thereupon, as final considerations, indetermination and uncertainty of contemporary society continue in the individual relationship with consumption. During the purchase, the subject in the role of consumer-citizen acts many times as an insecure, unstable individual. The result of the field research suggests sometimes a consumerist attitude which reflects this instability, presenting itself under the logic of variable and paradoxical consumption. In effect, one may consider that the “green consumer” represents a way of being that meets this identity mutation which is a characteristic of consumer society.

“Green products” turn up as a “conscious consumption” option in times when the environment is at stake.

However, as shown before, this consumption behavior is unstable and has a tendency to be disposable, as it works under the logic of a mobile subjectivity, which is produced depending on the market. As observed in the interviews, generations Y and Z favors price when shopping. Paying less for a product, the tendency to disposal a product favoring a new one becomes a common practice. Privileging price, there is not a thought about purchasing habits, about the origin or source of the products. Although there is knowledge about what is sustainability, it becomes clear that this aspect has not great relevance to shopping. Thus, we can observe that the price issue is still decisive to the buying decision, a factor that ends up reinforcing capital expansion rather the nature issue.

In the unstable, fluid consumer society, the individual needs to consume in order to belong; though questions on how, what and when to consume depend on different stimulus from different sources. In other words, many diverse social actors, such as the press, government, companies and NGOs interfere in the consumption choices as they disseminate information about companies and their products. This particular aspect was very clear during the questions asked for generations Y and Z about what has the most influence in the creation of a positive image of eco- friendly products.

Another issue appeared in the interviews was the second- hand clothing swaps events, which are an alternative to conventional consumption, as it does not involve money. More than half of both generations have never heard of these events. People who answered that they had heard about it said it was an interesting project, but not much announced. For these generations, a bigger announcement of these events by the media would represent a money saving option.

Issues highlighted in this work seem to dialog with some of the propositions supported by the authors used in the theoretical basis of this study (Bauman, Canclini, and Lipovetsky). The paradoxical consumption behavior of generations Y and Z reflects the essence of this Liquid Modernity and its uncertainties which continue under the logic of consumption. Under the consumerist logic, the individual is built in a fluid, fragmented, and unstable manner, and in the face of the weakness of traditional institutions in the “solid modernity”, he seeks “to belong” socially through consumption. It is not a choice, but a citizen's duty, which reflects severely the condition of an individualist ethics and the market values. Considering this is still an exploratory study, further research with more accurate samples could indicate the consumption behavior of generations Y and Z regarding green products with more consistency.

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  26. F. Tavares. Natureza S/A? O consumo verde na lógica do ecopoder. p. 1–362, 2007.


[1] A clothing swap is a type of swapmeet wherein participants exchange their valued but no longer used clothing for clothing they will use. Clothing swaps are considered not only a good way to refill one's wardrobe, but also are considered an act of environmentalism. It is also used to get rid of and obtain specialist clothing. Cloth swap can be specialized – they can cater for example for clothes swaps only for high end brands.



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