Green Consumer Behavior – Part III: Changing Behavior without Changing Attitudes

Marketers have historically faced an uphill battle when it comes to marketing eco-friendly goods.  Simply put, it is difficult to influence consumer purchase behavior without first impacting attitudes and values.  These values, however, take a concerted effort over a long period of time to change. 

As a result, corporate marketers tend to stay clear of awareness and education communications, preferring to target consumers lower in the purchase funnel who are already predisposed to green messaging.  The reason for this is self-evident: when it comes to green, acquisition campaigns have higher and more immediate financial returns than awareness campaigns. 

Yet, for marketers, the opportunity exists to influence environmentally friendly behavior without necessarily shifting attitudes.  This effect has been subject of academic investigation including a study conducted by Professors John Thøgersen and Folke Ölander of the Aarhus School of Business (Denmark) examining the relationship between “value priorities” and “environmentally-friendly consumer behavior.”   

As part of this study, Thøgersen and Ölander examined the impact of recycling on the values and behaviors of Danish consumers over the course of one year. (“Human Values and the Emergence of a Sustainable Consumption Pattern: A Panel Study,” Journal of Economic Psychology, 2002).  The results of such investigation reveal several key findings that green marketers should consider:

First, the study reconfirmed that values drive behavior (while the converse relationship was not found to be statistically significant).  While not surprising, this result confirms that marketers face an uphill battle if they are to influence environmentally friendly behavior without first addressing values. 

Second, the study found that values are very stable and are difficult to impact in the “short and medium term.”  Finally, behavior change, the authors concluded, is hindered not only by values but by “behavioural inertia, created by forces [such as established habits] that are independent of – or at least not related in a simple way to – values”.    

Yet significantly for marketers, the study also suggests that for those that already hold environmentally friendly values, environmentally friendly behavior can evolve over time if consumers are provided the opportunity to engage in this behavior.  Thøgersen and Ölander concluded that “when new opportunities for environmentally-friendly behaviour are offered, consumers holding ‘environmentally-friendly values’ adjust their behaviour to be more consistent with their values.”  This finding implies that consumers who hold green values will demonstrate greener behavior if presented with relevant products or services.   

For marketers, the findings of this study help to uncover several opportunities to consider: 

Cultivate “greener than average” behavior: Half the products sold in the market are simply greener than the other half.  As such, marketers of “greener than average” products should make this a source of differentiation to attract consumers receptive to green messaging or cross-sell/up-sell existing customers to even “greener” products. 

For example, Honda is currently running a campaign to build awareness about how fuel efficient its cars fleet is.  With an average fuel economy of 30.1 MPG, Honda claims to sell “greener” products (inclusive of both hybrid and conventional engines) that are more than 20% more fuel efficient than the US average over the past 10 years. 

While such positioning can build awareness for its automobiles’ fuel economy, Honda can also leverage this campaign to build loyalty and even drive resale with its existing consumer base.  To do so, Honda must reinforce and cultivate “greener” behavior through congratulatory messaging at the time of purchase (ie, through “You made the right choice for you and the environment” messaging), as well as through results-based messaging throughout the customer lifecycle (ie, through “By driving a Honda, you have prevented 1000 lbs of CO2 from being released into our environment this year over an average vehicle.  Collectively, we are making a difference” messaging).  When it comes to resell, Honda should then try to up-sell a customer to an even greener vehicle or model. 

Target nascent green value holders:  Marketers should seize opportunities to speak with broader audiences who may not hold strong green values, but may be developing a greater affinity for environmental causes. These individuals may be more receptive to the green message when it is contextually relevant.   

The upcoming Live Earth concert may be one such opportunity.  Planned for 07/07/07, Live Earth will reach an estimated 2 billion people globally.  Sponsorship of this concert provides marketers with the opportunity to build brand awareness, educate consumers and even drive acquisition. 

Take advantage of government regulation that mandates behavior change:  As more governments grapple with how to reduce carbon emissions, governments will take action in order to accelerate change in consumer behavior.  One intriguing example is fluorescent light bulbs, often cited as low hanging fruit in the effort to slow global warming. 

For example, the adoption of fluorescent light bulbs by consumers has been slow for a variety of reasons: unconventional shape (though companies have started to change this), harsh ‘industrial’ light emitted, and high initial price (though bulbs last longer and save significant money on electricity bills over time).  

Despite these hurdles, several retailers have taken on the challenge.  For example, Home Depot sold 60MM fluorescent light bulbs last year while Wal-Mart intends to sell 100MM this year.  However, without significant change in consumer attitudes (combined perhaps with aggressive marketing tactics or financial incentives), these goals may fall short. 

Recently, however, legislatures have stepped up to fill the green behavior void – with legislation passed (EU, Australia) or up for consideration (California and Canada) to effectively phase out incandescent bulbs (by making efficiency standards higher than what can be currently achieved by current technology).  In effect, regulation would force consumers to switch en masse to more efficient light bulbs – and do so without first influencing consumer attitudes. 

42 thoughts on “Green Consumer Behavior – Part III: Changing Behavior without Changing Attitudes

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  4. As you write” Recently, however, legislatures have stepped up to fill the green behavior void – with legislation passed”, but it is not that straight forward as it appears. Wait for a change that will come sooner rather than later.
    Good post otherwise.

  5. What’s not green is not having a compact, “printer-friendly” format for printing. This page came to 9 pages on paper. How’s that for a carbon footprint, o green marketers?

  6. Hi everyone,

    Great article. I agree green marketing strategies can be adopted if its dealt in the right approach. I just worry about companies who specialize in greenwashing and have no real interest in changing company attitudes towards being green. I work for a company called Green Focus Films that tries to help companies who are truly sincere about their green efforts. Please check out our site.

    Green Marketing:

  7. I work for a company that makes totally green Denim Jeans. I know the green washings that 99% Denim jeans companies are on now and it irritates all the great efforts govets are taking .

    Eco friendly,Low impact dyes are to be checked for the nano particuled radio active effect on human body.

    Going green for them may be difficult as it only suits at present small organisations and rural based can do better quality and cheaper in cost , which no big company never could dream of. Big fish eats small all the 2 nd millanium .96% meaning less goods were floated in the market.We are repeating it only.

    Allowing conciously the green washings is addictive to senseless buyers. It is killing the enthusiasm for affinity to environ causes as well green behaviour consumers go confused . Policing and laws must bring one side the change momentum,while as vlaues and benifits is allowed to be wel tasted in real green goods by masses.

    Totally organic cotton natural dyed is 100% chemical free can be made in cottage level and it is dull drab crutsy not eye piercingly shiny ,or exciting .

    What the masses are brain washed is for this one. The very charecter of nature is dull it is turned into ghost instead of good use for health of the people.People are innocents criminals must be kept out. It is more important than changing values and attitude to green.

    In India since last 50 years values and attitude was once sound in people mind .Khadi and Handloom has not picked up till day ,it is loosing profit inspite of great good to people it is loosing profit.Lessons are there to learn.The western filth of fashion in household food and cloths created confusion.

    It is policing if product is green-good ,it is strict laws if it is good that is more important and takes the message better to masses . Not attitude change automatic or value shift automatic works among masses .A decade of Organic Era is increasing cotton production on ORGANIC is increasing every where .Genuinen green product price is falling everywhere . In few years we cut out prices to 85% Has the Denim jeans on Organic cotton entered U.S.A. market.Of the 1000 brands ;of the 2000 fabrics on cotton no single piece of totally organic and natural. Remember Organic Denim natural dyed price fallen to 85%.

    Pricing green goods high sets always bad example for Denim Indigo natural dyed goods.When genuine cottage made high quality and rurally priced is 33$ a pair in customers eye ,while has like-similar goods on nano particuled stuff dyed sells hot cake like in 350$ a pair . Brand image problem. This means we create problem and keep watering it well and tell brand new cannot compete.We think of stargies and spend more money in consultancy that in concreate action . What is competing with what at what price . Discourge people making in cosmopolitan surrounding the one item that has to be authentically rural made. Complex is the problem in the complexity ridden globe and if the laws remains simplified it is no use.

    This is the real issue to change the minds of consumers attitude.Stop the circling finsh, turn go on opposite to all 50 years, our direction was rot.

    Conciouse customers are niche market we are able to reach them by net work and be alive all the 6 years now to present before you as example . Many who started making genuine green goods along with us in our area dead alredy as they have no brand or social support or knowledge and information to survive with net-works .Mostly they were killed by media/propaganda that natural is dull and drab ( which is ture in genuine greens) war with “big brands”.

    Out site is

    Since ours is totally organic it is dull ,crap,drab ,can one make shiny in nautural material. It looks lie oldies and 17,18 centuries goose chasers .
    Yes , you can mix 35% with nano particuled dyes to make it that shining garish way. Which is conciouse producer of green can not do and he will dye with nature to dye.

    Do some thing here.Get to truth no use holdig to tails. Do not build startegies with 3 year old kid. Let us learn fresh lessons and proact till it grows with examples sound .

  8. Suggetion for the policymakers and those who are seated in powers.

    1. Restriced growth will continue for another few decades till rotton economy of 50 years is covered.

    2. Restrict the Growth of 96% useless goods making big companies of the past millanium to introduce 33% genuine green.

    3. Symbolically ,constructionally ,visual impressionably it must be ,meaningful ,well expressed and accurate

    4. Trnasformation is one stuff, what every consumer Nuro-Psychic level can not live with out, every product must 25% must contribute in one way or otherdirect or indirect.
    5. This is antidote for unbriddled ILLUSION DRUG.
    6. Tax exciting ,tempting goods 100% .

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  16. I think to change people’s attitudes, we have to invoke more powerful mind states, the world is so capitalist that all people seem to think about is money, things etc.. It will take a whole lot to change that. The only way to market green consumer behaviour if unfortunately through monetary savings or fines, taxation etc…

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