Shoppers go green 'to impress neighbours not to save planet', study finds
Shoppers are hypocritical about buying environmentally friendly goods, according to a report which has found consumers are more concerned about impressing the neighbours than saving the planet.
By Lucy Cockcroft
Published: 7:30AM GMT 17 Mar 2010
While consumers are more likely to "go green" on the high street where they can be seen making altruistic choices, the privacy of online shopping brings out an entirely different behaviour.
When people are not being watched by their peers they are more willing to shun the ethical products in favour of comfort and convenience, the report says.
The habit has been studied by Vladas Griskevicius, of the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, who found eco-friendly shopping decisions are not always motivated by a social conscious.
He discovered that people were more likely to buy energy efficient light bulbs from the shops, but tended to opt for the old-fashioned type online.
The same trend was also found when people purchased white goods, electronics and even domestic cleaning products over the internet.
"Many green purchases are rooted in the evolutionary idea of competitive altruism, the notion that people compete for status by trying to appear more altruistic," he said.
In the paper "Going Green to Be Seen: Status, Reputation, and Conspicuous Conservation", published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the authors found that people would only forego luxury when others could see it.
Mr Griskevicius picks out the Toyota Prius car as a prime example. Celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz have been photographed behind the wheel of a Prius, despite being well able to afford a more powerful and expensive car, sending the message that they are concerned for the environment.
"A reputation for being a caring individual gives you status and prestige. When you publicly display your environmentally friendly nature, you send the signal that you care," said the report.
The study also showed that people were often more willing to buy green products when they were the most expensive option, because it showed they could afford to be caring.
An example is paying for canvas tote bags to take to the supermarket, rather than relying on the free but environmentally dubious plastic variety.
"People want to be seen as being altruistic. Nothing communicates that better than by buying green products that often cost more and are of lower quality but benefit the environment for everyone," Mr Griskevicius said.
* The green choice: high street vs online
While shoppers are more likely to buy environmentally friendly products on the high street where they can be seen to make the selfless choice, but behind closed doors it is a different matter.
Groceries – In the supermarket shoppers may be drawn to organic vegetables that are grown without chemical pesticides and are considered better for the environment. However, doing an online shop the cheaper option may seem more attractive.
Nappies – Some mothers feel under pressure to buy cloth nappies for their babies rather than contribute to landfill sites with the disposable kind. However, over the internet they may be tempted to stick with convenience.
Televisions – When buying televisions online shoppers tend to opt for the best bargain. However, when faced with energy efficiency labels in store, they may be persuaded to go for the greener option. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/greenerliving/7457185/Shoppers-go-green-to-impress-neighbours-not-to-save-planet-study-finds.htmlLiars, cheats, thieves: the terrible truth about the mean greens
The right-on brigade has been unmasked. About time too, says Iain Hollingshead
Published: 7:00AM GMT 17 Mar 2010
Every now and again there comes along a scientific study that proves beyond reasonable doubt what you instinctively know to be true: wine is good for you, exercise is dangerous, and self-righteous environmentalists are lying, cheating, thieving degenerates.
I'm exaggerating only a little. Do Green Products Make Us Better People?, a paper in the latest edition of the journal Psychological Science, argues that those who wear what the authors call the "halo of green consumerism" are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. Faced with various moral choices – whether to stick to the rules in games, for example, or to pay themselves an appropriate wage – the green participants behaved much worse in the experiments than their conventional counterparts. The short answer to the paper's question, then, is: No. Greens are mean.
The authors, two Canadian psychologists, came up with an intriguing explanation for this. "Virtuous acts," they write, "can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviour." It's the yin-yang theory of psychology, or "compensatory ethics", to give it its proper name. Buy an organic potato, then go home and beat your wife with The Guardian. Hop smugly into a green hybrid car, then use it to run over little old ladies doing their shopping.
This "moral balancing" argument, however, clearly has its limits. Most people are sufficiently balanced without having to swing to opposite ends of the moral spectrum. We can give money to charity without dipping into the company till at the same time. Every good act doesn't necessitate a bad one. To every action, there is not an equal and opposite reaction. Buying an expensive courgette with a bit of mud on it need not turn you into a tyrant.
No, what this study really does is to confirm our deep-rooted suspicion that there is something fishy about people who profess to be greener than thou. Those climate-change scientists in East Anglia didn't do their cause any favours with their emails. The most inconvenient truth for Al Gore was when reporters discovered just how large his home energy bills were.
As with the worst type of religious zealot, there is nothing more annoying than the zeal of the converted, especially when it is tainted with the hypocrisy of self-righteousness. As we report today, people are more likely to buy environmentally friendly produce in shops than on the internet. Being seen to be green is more important than anything else. I wonder whether that will change if it now becomes a case of being seen to be mean.
We should, of course, distinguish between the quiet, worthy faith of the majority, who recycle when they remember and try not to fly long-haul to New Zealand more than twice a month, and the infuriating, evangelical minority, who pour white paint all over nice, black 4x4s.
We've always suspected they were bullies. In the Seventies British film Nuts in May, Mike Leigh hilariously skewered the sort of couple whose supposed love of the environment – and why do so many of these people live in towns? – is really just a device to stop everyone else having fun.
And now, at last, we have confirmation that they're tight as well. They might be willing to pay over the odds for a lovingly tended carrot, but in every other area of normal human activity, their greenness is merely a mask for miserliness. The wind turbine, the tandem bike with a dangerous little buggy on the back for the twins, the self-denying holidays in Wales… Get a boiler! Get a car! Get out of here!
We have been kind to these unkind people for far too long. Now that their halo has fallen and they can no longer boast their green credentials as a shorthand for moral superiority, it is time to fight fire with fire. How about a little compensatory ethics of our own? Double the tax on organic food as a deterrent; it is clearly a starter drug to a lifetime of amorality. Stop and search anyone in a Prius. Conduct dawn raids on north London allotments. Otherwise, one can only imagine the sort of dystopia that would ensue if these mean little green men were allowed to run amok. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/7458105/Liars-cheats-thieves-the-terrible-truth-about-the-mean-greens.html