Eco-conscious consumers say it’s not easy being green

A Victoria University of Wellington researcher has uncovered why environmentally concerned consumers don’t always buy green products.

School of Marketing and International Business lecturer Dr Micael-Lee Johnstone undertook research with Macquarie University’s Dr Lay Peng Tan to explore the gap between consumers’ largely positive attitudes towards the environment and their comparatively un-environmental purchasing habits.

“Despite consumers’ positive attitudes about the environment, and their growing environmental consciousness, several studies have revealed an inconsistency between green attitudes and behaviour,” Dr Johnstone says.

Dr Johnstone and Dr Tan conducted several focus groups to gain a greater understanding of consumers’ green consumptive habits and their perceptions of green products in the hope of explaining the gap.

One of the strongest themes to emerge from their research are consumers’ perceptions that it is too hard to be green, something that can lead to inaction.

“According to our focus groups, being environmentally responsible takes time, effort and money,” Dr Johnstone says.

“There is also a perception that one needs to be knowledgeable, have self-discipline and be prepared to make personal sacrifices to be green.”

Some factors were internal, for example, some consumers didn’t feel ready to be green as they thought doing so would require giving up daily niceties. Others felt external factors, such as the unavailability of green products, or the not-so-green habits of their housemates, made it more difficult to make green choices.

Participants also felt geographic location influenced their consumptive habits. Urban consumers felt their setting made it harder to be eco-friendly, whereas those who lived in non-urban areas were more likely to be motivated by their natural surroundings to buy green products.

Another major reason for eco-conscious consumers not buying eco-friendly products is what Dr Johnstone and Dr Tan dubbed “green reservations” where there is a perception among some consumers that choosing green products will not necessarily make a difference to the environment.

Dr Johnstone’s research goes further by making recommendations to help close the gap between consumers’ attitudes and purchasing choices.

She says marketers’ traditional approach that focuses on the environmental benefits of their green products isn’t working. “We suggest this is because environmental benefits are hard to comprehend, involve uncertainty and aren’t immediately evident to the consumer.

“Also, the green hard sell is not working. Efforts should be made to make green appear easy, attainable and nonexclusive.

“Essentially, marketers and policy-makers need to work on normalising it because consumers are more likely to adopt behaviours and buy products that they perceive to be mainstream and part of the social norm,” she says.

The findings of their research ‘Exploring the Gap Between Consumers’ Green Rhetoric and Purchasing Behaviour’ were published in the Journal of Business Ethics.

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