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COVID-19: Business Must Meet Demand From Conscious Consumers

Social distancing and global lockdown may have changed consumer behavior for the better. Professors from the Kogod School of Business say businesses need to match the demands of conscious consumers


Fri Aug 28 2020


Most consumers today care where their products come from. They want to support ethical, sustainable, and environmentally-conscious businesses wherever possible––even if this comes with a bigger price tag.  

This behavior, called conscious consumption, is an example of altruism: the willingness to help others, even if that incurs personal costs or lack of pay-off for yourself.  

Professors Jay Simon and Ron Hill at American University’s Kogod School of Business are working to make altruism and conscious consumption a key part of every program they offer, encouraging MBA students to be part of the movement. 

The idea of aiding others without benefitting yourself goes against the core of capitalism, centered on generating revenue and outperforming your competitors. In the context of COVID-19, however, Jay and Ron argue that businesses need to step up and meet the demand for altruistic products and services. 

The slow introduction of altruism 

Altruism isn’t a new idea. In the 1990s, Nike sales took a huge hit after stories emerged about unethical labor conditions for Nike employees in Southeast Asia, explains Jay (pictured), who focuses the majority of his research on consumer behavior and sustainable business practices.  63269e4dc6711428536e8e149b3151d4645e712a.jpg

The scandal prompted consumer outrage and forced Nike to improve production transparency in order to rebuild its public image.  

Faced with the darker underbelly of the commercial world––sweatshops, child labor, environmentally damaging factories––modern-day consumers are put off from brands altogether. Therefore, from a business standpoint, it’s vital that companies are marketed as ethical and humane to avoid being boycotted.  

Consumers are looking for a more concerted effort to make a positive change. Adidas, for example, has introduced a line of trainers made entirely of old recycled materials, with a public pledge to use only eco-friendly materials for all products by 2024. 

“The more people are aware of disparities in labor and environmental practices, the more they’re going to factor altruism into their consumption decisions,” Jay continues. “There’s an opportunity for companies to get value from behaving responsibly.” 

Altruistic corporate social responsibility goes beyond donating to charities on an annual basis but rather makes a long-term commitment to projects or behaviors that don’t benefit them monetarilyhe emphasizes.  

The limits of altruism 

In an ideal world, you would probably like to be aaltruistic consumer, but the reality is that it costs more. Not everyone can afford it long-term.  

“There is a cost or pain threshold,” Jay explains. “If people are struggling, they’re only willing to sacrifice so much.” 

We’re seeing this happen with the global coronavirus pandemic. Towards the beginning of lockdown, there was a willingness to support more local businesses. Consumers were choosing to support their immediate community rather than investing in bigger international brands, despite the extra cost. This was an abrupt reversal of the modern-day trend of shopping conveniently and cheaply. 


©Kogod School of Business

Months down the line, consumers are returning to convenience. Economic strain caused by furlough, job loss, and ongoing expenses means that the more expensive (and more ethical) options are no longer viable for a large percentage of consumers.   

This altruistic limit is why corporate responsibility remains a niche subsector of the business worldIt’s still a growing market––and there’s a growing expectation from consumers for international companies (particularly those rooted in developed countries) to do better, but where consumer capability stops, businesses aren’t picking up the slack.  

Companies need to balance ethics with monetary gain, Jay argues, before they get left behind. “These companies will be willingly losing some market share if they just focus on cost and efficiency above all else.” 

Student Reviews

Kogod School of Business - American University




On Campus

Clean and well maintained campus

I am completely enamored with this school. The entire student body is driven, inclusive, and highly intelligent. The decision to attend American University is not made haphazardly. Its close proximity to Washington DC, making it one of the most strategically located schools after Georgetown, means it's just a short train ride away. The campus is well-maintained, with mostly attractive buildings, although there are a few that are less appealing. Additionally, there are numerous excellent food options available. The wide range of clubs and organizations to join is remarkable. It is undeniably a school filled with immense passion.




On Campus

City life

I’m having a wonderful time at American University. I love that I can get to a big city and still feel like a traditional campus. Sincerely, it is a school that may require some adjusting to, but in the end, it is a very good school with numerous opportunities for its students. The atmosphere in AU is so great that it pushes you in a positive way and offers every opportunity you could want.




On Campus

Amazing helpful professors

American College is an incredible school with astounding teachers. Best professors I could have asked for at an amazing school. My opinion is that American University's professors are its greatest asset. They are extremely intelligent and always eager to assist their students. They go above and beyond in their classes to make sure that their students do their best.




On Campus

AU Review

The workload is quite high and AU is definitely not an "easy" school. Students take their studies very seriously and can almost always find a group in the library, DAV, Starbucks or MGC. Courses can be quite ambitious if the right courses are offered and the admissions process can be confusing at times, but with the help of an advisor it is quite easy to navigate. The library can be crowded, and while it's not huge, there are plenty of other places to study on campus. The professors really want to help during office hours and interact with students. I've had good experiences with the professors and workload at AU, but it's an expensive city.




On Campus

Majoring in Political and International Relations

The instructors are unique and the classes can be boring at times. Check-in is stressful (but it is everywhere). The workload is what I expected. The most popular majors are international relations and political science




On Campus

I Love Being A Musical Theater Major

I love being a musical theater student, if you want to help behind the scenes, if you want to be an assistant director, if you want to be a director, if you want to write, you can do anything at this academy, very supportive, it's amazing, they are always there to help you. This is their working time. Even after the audition tells you what you did wrong, you can do better, or if you get picked, you know why they picked you, which is great




On Campus

AU's Business Model

Overall, there were a lot of good opportunities at UA, both in terms of course range and faculty. However, I had a few complete misfires. People who shouldn't have taught at all. Like all universities, AU's business model is to hire hands-on assistants so they don't have to pay them extra or perform well. They are signed and if that does not work, they are not hired any more. The problem with this is that you end up with people who are unqualified and bring their own agendas, biases that may or may not be based on research. Most of the professors were absolutely fantastic.




On Campus

AU - The Real Problem With Academics

Some teachers are amazing, some awful - typical of any school. But the real problem with AU is that many students don't care about academics as much as other things (eg, partying). The academics are really interrupted by the Greek life and the social life of the students. This makes it difficult for students interested in academics to get the most out of their school experience. Some students do not take classes seriously and do not respect teachers and other students. Courses and opportunities at UA are perfect for people who want to take advantage




On Campus

American University - The Best Place to Study

They know their stuff - I chose American University because the campus is beautiful and the biology program is relatively small. But after the first semester, I realized that all the professors, especially the people in the science department, are experts in their field. They are enthusiastic and helpful in lecturing; even the TAs who teach the labs are amazing and engaging.