Global development is now, more than ever, imperiled by unsustainable production and consumption patterns [1
] (Hosseini 2020). Since the publication of the first report on “Environment and Development” by the World Commission in 1987, sustainable development refers to “development that is trying to meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” ([2
], p. 273). Thenceforth, sustainability has become a “hotspot” research arena and has attracted a burgeoning academic and practical interest [3
]. Sustainability scholars have identified three building blocks of sustainability: “economic”, “social”, and “environmental” [6
]. Besides, scholars have developed numerous distinct sustainability performance standards and measures to evaluate organizations’ economic, social, and environmental performance [8
According to Hosta and Zabkar [2
], the pillars of sustainability fit into the scope of the organizational triple bottom-line view, which serves as a transparent and well-defined method of performance evaluations. However, existing research on sustainability “does not offer an examination of the notion that different dimensions of sustainability (e.g., economic, social, environmental, and cultural) can exist in the minds of consumers” ([8
], p. 270). Similarly, Hosta and Zabkar [2
] noted a lack of consensus on the theoretical underpinning of the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability and, hence, their “relative importance” is not profusely evaluated. As a result, researchers have shifted their focus to the multidimensionality of the sustainability construct in recent studies [9
]. From the consumers’ perspective, Catlin et al. [12
] noted that sustainability’s social and environmental dimensions echo distinct meanings and understanding in their perceptions. The social dimension reflects the short-term, local, and affective thoughts, while the environmental dimension represents the long-term, global, and cognitive reflections. Besides, many product-oriented researchers in recent years have contemplated that multidimensionality would be observed in comparing the substitute/competing products of local, organic, and fair trade ethical alternatives [13
Despite the escalated gravity of interest in examining consumer behavior, a growing number of conceptual and empirical studies have cast sustainable consumer behavior [14
], while omitting the outlook of responsible behavior [2
]. Taken together, responsible sustainable consumer behavior (RSCB) might serve as a complex pattern of social and environmental issues, consistent with the perspective of sustainability as a construct with both social and environmental pillars. In compliance with consumers’ sustainable needs and wants, there is a growing need to address the key question, “how do environmentally and socially responsible behaviors differ regarding their antecedents” ([2
], p. 274). Similarly, existing research on the hospitality industry is dominated by an emphasis on the environmental dimension of hotels’ green activities and sustainable consumer behaviors [9
], with the valuable exception of Hosta and Zabkar [2
]. Recent studies have highlighted the need to study responsible consumer behavior alongside sustainable behavior in the hospitality industry [18
]. We contemplate that hotels’ sustainable and responsible activities may be essentials precursors for eliciting RSCB.
The aims of this study are threefold. Firstly, we propose that sustainability marketing with a broader focus on “ethical”, “social”, “environmental”, and “cultural” dimensions [18
] has implications beyond ecological and green marketing [19
] and might stimulate RSCB. However, no prior studies have examined the influence of sustainability marketing as an antecedent of RSCB. By examining the critical role of sustainability marketing, the study will provide a finer-grain understanding of the antecedents of RSCB. Moreover, hotels can align their sustainability programs with consumers’ sustainability needs by leveraging distinct social and environmental appeals.
Secondly, in addition to examining the direct impact of sustainability marketing on RSCB, our study investigates a hitherto unexplored causal mechanism through which sustainability marketing might culminate in enhanced RSCB. Drawing on signaling theory [20
], we propose that organizational sustainability marketing activities leverage a sustainable brand image, which in turn, fosters RSCB. According to signaling theory, hotels may transform a strong brand image by conveying information to customers with certain signals by emphasizing their marketing endeavors’ environmental and social aspects. Ultimately, consumers may be influenced to exercise certain behaviors concerning those products/brands, which primarily focus on the social and ecological aspects of their sustainable initiatives. In addition to utilizing signaling theory, this study employs attribution theory [21
] to guide and reinforce the theoretical underpinning of the hypothesized relationships. Coupled with signaling theory, we anticipate that attribution theory provides a more nuanced understanding of consumers’ motive attributions and behavioral intentions that stimulate their behavioral tendencies towards more environmentally and socially responsible hotels.
Thirdly, we expand the boundary conditions of the sustainability marketing and RSCB nexus, i.e., under what conditions the associations are more or less likely to be pronounced. We hypothesize that corporate social responsibility (CSR) [22
] intervenes in the association between sustainability marketing and brand image, and then, RSCB through the mediating role of the brand image, such that the relationships are more potent at higher levels of CSR than at low levels of CSR. More specifically, we propose that: (1) sustainability marketing promotes RSCB through the mediating role of brand image, and (2) CSR moderates the direct relationship between sustainability marketing and brand image, and the indirect relationship between sustainability marketing and RSCB through brand image.
Our study contributes to the existing academic discussion in numerous ways. Firstly, by flipping the perspective from environmental-only marketing activities to the broader implications of the social and environmental views, our research answers the call of Hosta and Zabkar [2
] and advances the research on the RSCB continuum. Recently, there has been a burgeoning academic and practical interest in studying RSCB [2
]. RSCB is hard to pin down when describing it. Nonetheless, the term is employed and utilized as an umbrella concept that emphasizes an individual’s efforts in meeting environmental goals: the green needs of society, reducing environmental harms, saving natural resources, and improving their quality of life [15
]. The term also encompasses societal goals: leveraging positive impacts on society by promoting societal benefits and mitigating issues impacting society [23
]. As discussed above, the integration of the social and environmental aspects of hotels’ marketing efforts is needed to draw consumers’ attention towards the broader perspectives of environmentally and socially responsible behaviors. According to Hosta and Zabkar [2
], small empirical studies cast these two distinct factors in a single piece of research and explore their antecedents. By encapsulating environmentally and socially responsible behavior and investigating its antecedents, our study furthers prior research that overlooked this crucial dilemma. In addition, given the significant role of corporate efforts in ameliorating the societal aspects of its marketing activities [24
], organizations can respond to increasing environmental challenges and demands and act more responsibly towards society [2
]. Secondly, by assessing the mediating role of brand image in the relationship between sustainability marketing and RSCB, our study attempts to bridge the gap in the existing, yet disjointed, literature on sustainability marketing and RSCB. Last but not least, our study emphasizes the operational construct of CSR in a comprehensive manner by examining its impact in underpinning the underlying linkages. Most recent studies have viewed CSR from the perspective of the environment only [17
], hence, limiting its scope and ability to leverage sustainable marketing practices.
Importance of Sustainability Marketing and CSR in the Hotel Industry
Preliminary studies have related sustainable marketing efforts and environmental CSR with increased brand image and sustainable consumer behavior [18
]. According to Hosta and Zabkar [2
], such marketing efforts have directed efforts to organizations’ ecological initiatives at the cost of societal goals. Indeed, organizational environmental efforts are more likely to exacerbate consumers’ sustainable behaviors in the hotel industry because hotel consumers receive sustainable signals, promoting their consumption tendencies to incline towards hotels exercising green practices. However, the social element, that received immense theoretical and practical attention in the past decades, now remains uncultivated due to the prioritization of environmental concerns only [2
There is wide agreement in the academic literature that has documented positive correlations between an organization’s green initiatives, environmental CSR, brand image, and sustainable consumer behavior. Specifically, Yadav et al. [27
] investigated the influence of green marketing on corporate image and found a positive nexus among them in the hospitality industry context. Besides, a host of researchers in recent years have examined the role of green message strategies on green brand image in a hotel context and reported significant interplay among them. In this milieu, Hosta and Zabkar [2
] stress the importance of scrutinizing sustainability marketing in developing a superior brand image and RSCB. Similarly, several well-cited studies have linked the role of CSR to building a positive brand image. For instance, Muhammad and Rashid [28
] carried out a study in the Malaysian hotel industry and found significant positive associations between CSR, brand image, and customer satisfaction. In a related stream, Latif et al. [29
] conducted a cross-sectional study on the hotel industry in China, Pakistan, and Italy. They found significant impacts of CSR in elevating customer loyalty. Likewise, longitudinal research conducted by Serra-Cantallops et al. [30
] corroborated the implications of CSR for the hotel industry. The authors highlighted the need for future research to address CSR from the perspectives of social and environmental concerns and endorsed existing research in the context of the local community, i.e., that the societal aspect of CSR is under researched [30
]. Our study explores the boundary effects of sustainability and CSR on BI and RSCB. Despite a wide array of research emphasizing the meaningfulness of green practices and CSR in building a superior brand image, there is still a need to investigate the understudied, integrated role of responsible marketing coupled with sustainable practices to cultivate an enhanced brand image and environmentally and socially RSCB.
The subsequent section presents the theoretical underpinning of the hypothesized relationships, the research methodology, empirical analysis, and a discussion on the study’s findings, followed by deliberation on the theoretical and practical implications.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
As the nature of the business world is changing and becoming more complicated at an ever-increasing rate, practitioners must deal with burgeoning consumer demands and governmental pressures to fulfil environmental and social obligations. To be sustainable and responsible, hotels must upgrade their existing marketing practices to portray a sustainable brand image and tap into consumers’ responsible and sustainable behaviors. Aligned with the rising trend to integrate sustainable marketing practices with the societal aspect, the current study investigated the impact of sustainability marketing on RSCB through the mediating effect of the brand image. Moreover, the study proposed that the hotels’ CSR activities reinforce these relationships. Anchored on signaling and attribution theories, the study examined the hypothesized model with data from hospitality industry customers.
5.1. Theoretical Implications
The findings of this study present unique yet comparable theoretical implications, such as:
The study proposed the first hypothesis that sustainability marketing activities, i.e., economic, social, environmental, and cultural marketing activities, are positively related to the brand image. The findings support this projection that hotels with a sound focus on sustainability marketing activities may better portray their brand image as environmentally and socially responsible. This is because each dimension of sustainability marketing positively influences the brand image. The results of this analysis support previous studies that have linked sustainability marketing with brand image [18
]. Similarly, other studies encompassing socially responsible marketing activities also report positive associations with brand image [92
]. This finding supports the prior studies and extends the implications in two ways. Firstly, as discussed above, sustainability marketing activities need to focus on the societal aspect of the hotels’ marketing practices. By projecting sustainability marketing as a comprehensive construct, our study integrates hotels’ environmentally friendly and social marketing activities; thus, promoting the brand image of an organization that not only fulfils its environmental obligations, but also responds to the needs of society. Secondly, we assessed sustainability marketing as a higher-order construct encompassing the hotels’ economic, social, environmental, and cultural activities. Firstly, we examined the impact of each dimension of sustainability marketing: economic marketing activities, social marketing activities, environmental marketing activities, and cultural marketing activities on the brand image. Secondly, as the construct of sustainability marketing involves LOCs, we calculated the latent scores of the LOCs and examined the impact of sustainability marketing as a HOC on RSCB through the mediating role of the brand image. By investigating sustainability marketing as an antecedent, our study distinguishes its implications for brand image from Jung et al. [18
], who assessed the relationship between each dimension with the brand image. In addition, Jung et al. [18
] study found an insignificant impact of social marketing activities on brand image. However, in the context of environmentally and socially responsible behaviors, we anticipated that the hotel’s social and other marketing activities are positively and significantly linked with their brand image.
Similarly, our second hypothesis stated that brand image is positively linked with RSCB. Our findings support the notion that consumers will more likely be shaping socially and environmentally responsible behaviors, engendered by the hotel’s brand image fostered through its sustainability marketing. Our findings are in harmony with preliminary studies that have found a positive influence of brand image on consumer behaviors. For instance, Zhang [94
] related brand image from a consumer perspective with customer equity and found positive correlations between them. Similarly, Chang and Fong [95
] found positive associations between green corporate image and green customer satisfaction and loyalty. Another host of researchers in recent years has related green brand image with consumer beliefs on the environment [96
]. Moreover, their study revealed that consumer environmental beliefs are provoked through the green brand image guided by green marketing activities, which is consistent with our findings. The significant relationship between brand image and RSCB supports the mediating role of the brand image between sustainability marketing and RSCB. Investigating the impact of brand image stimulated by sustainability marketing activities on RSCB advances the prior research on environmentally and socially sustainable behaviors. Thus, our third hypothesis extends previous studies [96
] by assessing the impact of sustainability marketing on brand image and RSCB. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is one of the few studies that examined these associations and, hence, contributes to the existing literature more meaningfully. Further, we addressed the call of Hosta and Zabkar [2
] by examining the antecedents of RSCB. We draw on insights from signaling theory, which posits that hotels’ sustainability marketing activities depict positive signals to consumers through portraying a sustainable brand image, ultimately stimulating RSCB. Besides, additional insights are drawn from attribution theory, which provides a causal explanation to determine consumers’ behaviors based on the attributes they associate with a hotel’s motives in performing environmentally and socially responsible activities. Hence, consumers’ consumption choices may be influenced by their behaviors, stimulated by a positive brand image based on the perceptions of the hotel’s sustainability marketing activities. Moreover, our findings can be extended to other essential deliverables of sustainability marketing, such as
customer satisfaction and loyalty [97
], and sustainable competitive advantage [98
The fourth and fifth hypotheses demonstrated that the hotel’s CSR activities intervene with the relationship between sustainability marketing and the brand image (and RSCB). The findings support these hypotheses, such that the relationships between sustainability marketing and brand image (and RSCB) are stronger at higher levels of CSR than at lower levels. Our findings are in agreement with previous studies. For instance, Khan et al. [32
] found the significant role of brand social responsibility affected the relationship between the brand image and customer purchase intention, stimulated by green supply chain management. Our findings contribute to the crucial role of CSR, by assessing the hotel’s CSR activities as a moderating variable that underpins the association between sustainability marketing and brand image, and sustainability marketing and RSCB through the brand image. Consumers’ behaviors stimulated by a hotel’s sustainability marketing activities and brand image are reinforced by the perception that the hotel’s CSR activities are congruent with their current and future needs.
Last, but not least, our study relies on signaling and attribution theories to hypothesize the relationship between sustainability marketing and RSCB, through the mediating effect of brand image and the moderating effect of CSR. By extending the implications of the aforenoted theories to infer the hypothesized relationships, our study contributes to the theoretical underpinning of signaling theory and attribution theory in the context of sustainability marketing and RSCB. In addition, both of these theories complement each other in predicting the association among the proposed variables.
5.2. Practical Implications
These findings turn into meaningful practical implications that will help marketers and policymakers to enhance the desirability of responsible and sustainable behavior. For instance, given increasing environmental pressures and burgeoning demands on the hospitality industry to foster environmental and societal sustainability, marketing professionals find it imperative to devise ways that may provoke sustainability marketing. Besides, organizations are required to maintain a balance between sustainable and responsible activities for the betterment of all at large. As indicated by our findings, sustainability marketing stimulates the brand image of the hospitality industry. Thus, we suggest that marketing managers should not only operate environmental activities, but also execute social activities to present a stronger and more sustainable image to customers. Subsequently, the brand image formed based on the hotel’s sustainability marketing may nurture RSCB. Hence, marketing managers should consider all sustainability marketing activities, such as those relating to economic, social, environmental, and cultural aspects, to better position their image to customers as environmentally and socially responsible. This will result in improved RSCB, because customers identify themselves with brands, and their behaviors might be regulated based on their perceptions and the positive image of the brand. The awareness of responsible consumers can be enhanced by enriching the presence of social issues and confining the hurdles to this type of behavior. Marketing managers and policymakers could use positive examples or influencers that are admired by a specific population. Hence, this will ultimately influence their consumption choices that address social and environmental issues. Moreover, hotel managers should emphasize their CSR practices’ ethical, legal, and ecological aspects. Hotels should participate in community welfare through sponsorships and donations. Prior studies have shown that customers turned away from companies that performed unethical activities [99
]. However, when consumers perceive that hotels exercise socially and environmentally responsible activities guided by their CSR initiatives, they develop long-lasting relationships with these hotels. This is because CSR not only influences the image of a brand, but also impacts its bottom-line [79
]. Hence, the execution of CSR activities should not be an option, but a mandatory approach, for hospitality firms.
5.3. Limitations and Future Directions
This study is subject to several limitations. Firstly, we assessed the theorized model using the convenience sampling technique. We invite future studies to conduct longitudinal research design and investigate these underlying relationships. Secondly, we examined the impact of sustainability marketing on brand image (and RSCB) using it as a HOC. However, the dimension of sustainability marketing that explains more variance in the proposed outcome variables should be an interesting avenue for future studies. Thirdly, we assessed brand image as a mediating variable between sustainability marketing and RSCB. Our findings indicate that brand image partially mediates this link. This indicates that other contingent factors may influence the association. Fourthly, despite the burgeoning interest in studying RSCB, more empirical research is needed to explore its antecedents. Hence, future studies should expand the boundary conditions of RSCB. Finally, the study was conducted in a non-Western country, therefore, caution is required in generalizing and interpreting this study’s findings.