Last week, the green movement received endorsements from some very high places. Religious leaders that represent the two largest Christian denominations in the US – more than 66 million Catholics and 16 million Southern Baptists – declared that environmental protection has religious significance.
For Southern Baptists, “any damage we do to this world is an offense against God Himself”; for Catholics, “environmental pollution” is considered a “sin”. While not the first religious groups to endorse action to protect the environment, they were significant given their political, economic and social clout within the US and globally.
Notably, the Southern Baptist Declaration calls for action on climate change despite an ongoing debate within the community as to its cause. The Declaration states that “even in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future…Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—however great or small.”
Green marketers should consider this turn of events. To be clear, Marketing Green does not advocate exploitation of religious beliefs for commercial gain. Nonetheless, marketers should recognize that such significant shifts in church doctrine will likely impact consumer attitudes towards the environment, and perhaps, consumer behavior longer-term. As such, these are trends that green marketers need to understand.
In fact, such a connection between religious attitude and behavior was explored in a seminal paper published by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen more than 30 years ago. In this work, Fishbein and Ajzen established that while religious attitude could not be correlated with any single behavior, it was highly correlated with multiple behaviors over time. (“Attitudes Towards Objects as Predictors of Single and Multiple Behavioral Criteria,” Psychological Review, Vol 81, No. 1 p. 59-74, 1974)
Said another way: “general attitudes toward religion poorly predicted specific behaviors, but strongly predicted aggregated behaviors over time (e.g., church attendance over one year vs. on a particular Sunday).” (Professor Eric Weiser, Curry College, MA, 2007).
This observation may have particular implications for the environment. First, attitudes toward green will likely evolve as the faithful absorb amended church doctrine. Second, behavior change is likely to follow over time as more people put their beliefs into practice.
As such, marketers may find a growing audience that is more receptive to green messaging as well as one more willing to modify its behaviors to align with its underlying religious beliefs. Green marketers should consider expanding their reach to include those that believe that environmental protection is a religious obligation, or even more broadly, to include those who at a minimum subscribe to a denomination that does.
Moreover, as attitudes regarding religion and the environment evolve, green marketers have an opening to impact behavior by providing greener product alternatives to an increasingly receptive audience.