Capstone Projects

An Analysis of the Perceived and Actual Impact of Individual Consumer Decisions on Sustainable Production

Program: Sustainable Management Bachelor's
Location: Madison, Wisconsin (remote)
Student: Sydney Mueller

This Capstone Project analyzes the role of individual consumer influence on sustainable production. This project provides an overview of sustainable consumption and addresses the debate over individual accountability against systemic environmental and societal issues. The report then discusses the influences and limits of sustainable consumption, the ways in which sustainable products can be encouraged among both producers and consumers, and the importance of reducing consumption. The project looks at producer and consumer impacts throughout a product’s lifecycle and analyzes life cycle assessments of several consumer products: plastic packaging and its alternatives, electric vehicle batteries, and home heating appliances. Environmental, social, and economic factors influence the demand for, and the production of, every product. Each product has its own environmental, social, and economic impact during each portion of its life cycle.

This topic required a large amount of research in order to achieve the project’s goal of investigating the perceptions and impacts of individual consumer decisions. The resulting project illustrates the complexity of sustainable consumption. While the responsibility for sustainable business practices should fall onto the businesses themselves, individuals should not underestimate their own power.

Before the semester began, the Capstone Project seemed like an incredibly daunting task. The first challenge to overcome was deciding on a project topic. I had a general idea of what I wanted to focus on, but I had been worried that I didn’t have a clear enough idea before starting the project. The first few weeks of the semester were challenging as I developed the main concept for my project.

Once I had selected a topic, I felt confident about the research aspect of the project. I have always enjoyed gathering and organizing information, especially about a subject matter that I find interesting. I liked getting to learn more about each aspect of my chosen topic. The portion of my project in which I analyzed life cycle assessments helped me to be more critical of certain sources. Analyzing a problem required a different set of skills than simply researching the issue. This type of critical analysis is likely to be a useful skill for any future work involving research. After reading the entirety of an academic journal article about plastic packaging, I realized that the article’s conclusion was flawed because the assessment relied on unrealistic assumptions. This article ended up being very useful for my project because its flaws showed how easy it is for consumers to be mislead into believing that a product is good for the environment when its impact is actually a lot more complicated.

The other aspects of the project still seemed quite intimidating. The most overwhelming part of the project was the interview process. Reaching out to potential interviewees was outside of my comfort zone. This experience helped me to gain the courage to contact organizations to request interviews. I think that my communication skills have improved because of this experience.