A selection of interesting articles we came across recently on consumers and sustainability.

The role of guilt in opt-out/opt-in green choices
Companies often encourage consumers to engage in sustainable behaviours using their services in a more environmentally friendly or green way, such as reusing the towels in a hotel or replacing paper bank statements by electronic statements. Sometimes, the option of green service is implied as the default and consumers can opt-out, while in other cases consumers need to explicitly ask (opt-in) for switching to a green service. This research examines the effectiveness of choice architecture and particularly the different default policies—i.e., the alternative the consumer receives if he/she does not explicitly request otherwise—in engaging consumer green behaviour.

In four experiments, the researchers show that the opt-out default policy is more effective than the opt-in, because it increases anticipated guilt. This effect is stronger for consumers who are less conscious for the environment (Study 1). The study also shows that a forced choice policy, in which the consumer is not automatically assigned to any condition and is forced to choose between the green and the non-green service option, is more effective than the opt-in policy and not significantly more effective than the opt-out policy (Study 2).

Finally, they show that the role of defaults is weakened (enhanced), if a negotiated (reciprocal) cooperation strategy is used (Study 3). The article contributes to the literature of defaults and provides managerial and public policy implications for the design of green services.

Further details are available at: Aristeidis Theotokis & Emmanouela Manganari. 2015. The Impact of Choice Architecture on Sustainable Consumer Behavior: The Role of Guilt.
Journal of Business Ethics, 131(2), 423-437.


When will you purchase environmentally friendly products?
Research shows that commitment-based interventions are among the most effective strategies to encourage pro-environmental behaviours, but methods to elicit commitments from a large number of individuals (i.e., door-to-door or phone campaigns) are often costly and unrealistic. Predictions requests—a commitment-type strategy—are an effective mass-communication strategy and have the potential to influence pro-environmental behaviour among large audiences.

This research is the first to demonstrate that prediction requests in a consumer behaviour context influence preference for environmentally friendly products. In addition, this research examines the role of individual and contextual factors in influencing the efficacy of prediction requests. Study 1 shows that exposure to an advertisement with a prediction request leads to increased preferences for environmentally sustainable (vs. traditional) household cleaning products, compared to a control advertisement, and that this effect is greater when the prediction request is paired with an audience cue (vs. prediction request only). Study 2 indicates that the effect of prediction requests on preference for sustainable products is greater for individuals with interdependent (vs. independent) self-construal. Substantive implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Read more in: H. Onur Bodur, Kimberly M. Duval and Bianca Grohmann. 2015. Will You Purchase Environmentally Friendly Products? Using Prediction Requests to Increase Choice of Sustainable Products.
Journal of Business Ethics, 2015, 129(1), 59-75.


Brand social responsibility (BSR)
Social responsibility is typically examined at the firm level, yet there are instances in which consumers’ social responsibility perceptions of the firm’s product brands differ from social responsibility perceptions with regard to the firm

[i.e., corporate social responsibility (CSR)]. This article conceptualises brand social responsibility (BSR) and delineates it from CSR. Following the development of a BSR scale (Study 1), this research demonstrates variations in consumers’ social responsibility perceptions across product brands even if they are owned by the same corporation and compete in the same product category (Study 2). BSR is distinct from CSR (Studies 3a–3c), and better predicts consumers’ responses to product brands compared to corporate level measures (Study 4).

Consistent with the conceptual distinction, this research demonstrates the unique contribution of BSR and CSR in predicting product brand and corporate outcomes, respectively (Study 5). From a theoretical viewpoint, this research is one of the few to examine differences between product brand and CSR. From a managerial viewpoint, the consideration of social responsibility at the product brand level facilitates the assessment of social responsibility perceptions across brands in brand portfolios managed under a mixed-branding or house-of-brands strategy.

For further details see: Bianca Grohmann & H. Onur Bodur. 2015. Brand Social Responsibility: Conceptualization, Measurement, and Outcomes.
Journal of Business Ethics, 131(2), 375-399.

Consumers and pesticides as an issue of sustainability
Pesticide use is pervasive and intensive in agricultural production. Certain food activists, producers, and public health researchers contest pervasive pesticide use on the basis that it is unsustainable for human health, the environment and the control of pests in growing food. In Australia government has largely left the resolution of this contestation to consumer choice. Yet the use of pesticides is barely visible to those consuming the products.

This paper uses the example of strawberries to trace back how consumption choices are framed by regulatory choices in which consumers have little engagement. Strawberries have traditionally been a highly pesticide-intensive crop. The results highlight the limits of consumer choice as a method of deliberative democratic engagement with issues of agrifood sustainability.

Read more in: Christine Parker. 2015. Strawberry fields forever: Can consumers see pesticides and sustainability as an issue?
Sustainability Science, 10(2), 285-303.

Communicating sustainable shoes to mainstream consumers
Traditionally, marketing of sustainable products addresses green buyers, thus missing out on the mainstream consumers and volume necessary to cover the potentially higher cost of more sustainable materials. However, how to effectively communicate more sustainable products to mainstream consumers and to increase their buying intention is still underexplored. Combining personal and environmental benefits, called double benefit theory, is promoted as an effective green marketing strategy but so far not supported by quantitative research as being effective to reach mainstream consumers.

These authors studied the effect of advertisement elements (layout colour, benefit type and heritage) on the products’ perceived sustainability, quality and fashion image, and buying intentions of mainstream consumers. Two hundred adults participated in a study that was based on a 2 (red vs. green layout) × 2 (personal vs. environmental benefit) × 2 (local vs. global heritage) between-subjects factorial design of a sustainable shoe advertisement. The impact of these independent variables on product image as well as on buying intention was analyzed by means of three-way ANOVAs. In line with the double benefit theory, combining a personal benefit with a green layout led to the highest buying intention. Moreover, a mediation analysis revealed the effect of emphasizing a personal benefit on buying intention was mediated by fashion image but not by sustainability. Sustainability, however, did have a positive effect on buying intentions independent of benefit type.

This is an Open Access paper – read the full text for free.

Mirjam Visser, Valentin Gattol & Rosan van der Helm. 2015. Communicating Sustainable Shoes to Mainstream Consumers: The Impact of Advertisement Design on Buying Intention.
Sustainability, 7(7), 8420-8436.