Know why consumers don't buy environment-friendly products

While it has been suggested that consumers are willing to environment-friendly products, these attitudes rarely result in purchases

In an eye-opener for companies aiming to promote environment-friendly products, new research suggests that they should downplay its green credentials if they want consumers to buy it.

Green products include features that are less harmful to the planet and population, such as biodegradable and non-toxic ingredients, that enhance energy efficiency and include recycled components.

Attitude does not result in a purchase

However, while it has been suggested that consumers are willing to buy such products, these attitudes rarely result in purchases and they often buy the conventional alternatives, say researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Leeds.

This is because of the performance ability sometimes associated with green products, whereby consumers perceive them as being less effective. "Instead, by downplaying the product's greenness, firms may be more likely to persuade consumers to buy it, if it is promoted on more traditional, rather than performance, aspects," said the study.

Environment Friendly
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Led by Dr Bryan Ursey of UEA's Norwich Business School, the study shows that the product category can influence the effect of a green product advertising strategy on performance assessments. "Given consumers' perceptions of poorly performing green products, persuading them to alter their consumption habits remains a difficult task for marketers," said Ursey.

Negative consequences likely

While firms have often attempted to enhance their environmental credentials by emphasizing a new product's green attributes, we show that this may in fact have negative consequences, he added in a paper published in the Journal of Advertising.

"As green products are often associated with poorer performance, firms would do well to tailor their advertising to meet the expected benefits associated with a given product category," the authors noted. Previous research has found that consumers tend to choose products with superior functional performance over products with superior sustainability characteristics.

Implicit over explicit

In the new study, authors conducted two experiments: One with an advertisement for a new laundry detergent and the other using an advert for a washing machine that featured a new eco-mode, which reduces power and water usage.

They found that implicit, rather than explicit, communication about greenness leads to higher performance evaluations and purchase intent for products that are less commonly green (the detergent) and for products that have an optional green mode (the washing machine).

The findings have important implications for public policy makers and support the notion that consumers are more likely to engage in pro-social actions when the request for help is accompanied by some form of personal benefit.