Why Some People Go Green and Others Do not
New research reveals the causes behind green consumerism
Why do some people love the Toyota Prius, but others couldn't care less about driving a hybrid vehicle? Why do some of your friends spend hours trying to reduce their carbon footprint, while others wonder what's the point of even recycling?
In the Stanford Social Innovation Review last year,
Economists have long studied a few personality traits that play into consumer and financial decisions. How careful are consumers about risk? How much information does a consumer seek out before making a purchase? These traits tend to vary greatly from one person to the next. So de Marchi and Hamilton decided to look beyond what people bought and consider their personalities and habits. Each survey question counted as a mark toward or against a certain trait. Someone who said he or she always slows down for a yellow light, for example, would score more strongly as a person with a risk-averse trait. Someone who doesn't like to try new restaurants and instead sticks to old favorites would score high with the "stickiness" personality trait.
Armed with data on the personality traits of individuals, the authors then examined a range of everyday decisions -- from what people buy to whom they vote for -- and analyzed their choices to see how much of their decision-making differences were caused by differing personality traits. "We're better at predicting how you vote than if we asked about your policy opinions," de Marchi says. So -- to use one prominent example from the book -- what kind of a person is a green consumer?
1. Idea consumers.
According to the authors, green consumers not only buy stuff, but they also buy ideas. Most consumers' daily purchases aren't motivated by ideology. Many people think only about the practicality of the things they buy, not the ideas they express by buying those things. For example, the act of buying a Prius often says something about the buyer -- that he or she is concerned about gasoline consumption. For green consumers, that ideological benefit of the purchase often outweighs the practical benefit. "In a purely I-want-to-save-the environment sense, the extra money to buy a Prius makes no sense," says de Marchi. "You could buy a
For green consumers, certain intangible parts of a purchase are often more important than the product's practical use. Altruism is another trait de Marchi and Hamilton looked at. If someone donates blood or regularly gives to charities, he or she probably ranks high with the altruism trait, which green consumerism was found to be associated with. But you don't need to actually accomplish anything good to let altruism guide your consumer choices. The feeling of doing good -- the "smile that recycling a can puts on your face," de Marchi suggests -- is enough to make an altruistic person a green consumer.
2. Time minders.
A key consideration in how consumers make most decisions -- not just financial ones -- is the degree to which they balance short-term costs and benefits versus long-term costs and benefits. For example, children are more likely to prefer one lollipop now to two lollipops a few days later. As they mature, many people become more willing to make sacrifices now for future returns. But not always: "Credit cards exist for a reason, even with the often spectacular rates they charge," says de Marchi.
Not surprisingly, green consumers come down hard on one side of this divide. They tend to think much more about the future and consider questions like "If I spend an extra
3. "Me too"-ers!
The very fact that a restaurant is busy will draw in more patrons, as it indicates an establishment's popularity. Some people pay close attention to the decisions of others when making choices for themselves. De Marchi and Hamilton call this the "me too" personality trait. For those in this group, "if other people in their network go green, they're going to do it too so they're part of a team," says de Marchi.
In some cases, however, following a social network can make a person less likely to be a green shopper. For example, if your friends and family don't care about the environment, you might go along with them. For businesses selling green products, it pays to consider how social networks affect their target audiences, says de Marchi. If a marketer knows that customers are more concerned with how they will be perceived for using a product than they are about the product's affordability or functionality, then the marketer should change strategies accordingly. Perhaps because hybrid-car buyers have the "me too" trait, the Toyota Prius has already captured the minds of many green consumers, making it hard for competitors. "There already is a big fan club. Creating another one, given that everyone who wants to be in the club already owns a Prius, is going to be tough," says de Marchi. The bottom line: Businesses trying to market green products should try to find original ideas instead of trying to improve on what's already out there.
Despite pessimistic signs on Capitol Hill and internationally regarding action by the United States on climate change initiatives, the head of the World Wildlife Fund today predicted that the December climate summit in Copenhagen will draw up a framework for action that will prompt Congress to move on the critical issue
On one side of the table were the Democrats. On the other side, where the Republicans normally would have been, there were only empty leather chairs. This was the strange scene in a hearing room on Capitol Hill, where Senate Democrats were trying to take the next step on their climate change bill by passing it through the Environment Committee.
Why Some People Go Green and Others Do not | Matthew Bandyk
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