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5 Promoting âGreenâ Consumer Behavior with Eco-Labels John ThÃ¸gersen* E co-labeling is one among a number of policy tools that are used in what has been termed an Integrated Product Policy (Nordic Council of Minis- ters, 2001). The increasing popularity of product-oriented environmen- tal policy in Europe and elsewhere is based on the perception that the abatement of pollution from industrial and other large sources is now within reach. Hence, the relative importance of pollution from ânonpointâ sources (MiljÃ¸styrelsen, 1996), particularly pollution (and resource use) associated with private consump- tion (Geyer-AllÃ©ly and Eppel, 1997; Norwegian Ministry of Environment, 1994; Organization for Economic Co-operation [OECD], 1997b; Sitarz, 1994), has increased. However, not only the composition, but also the volume of con- sumption in the industrialized countries is increasingly acknowledged to be un- sustainable. If widely accepted prognoses for the growth in global consumption are realized, a factor 4 or greater reduction in the environmental impact per produced unit is needed in the next 40 to 50 years just to keep the total environ- mental impact at the current level (MiljÃ¸styrelsen, 1996). As a means to reduce the pollution and resource use following from con- sumption, attempts are made to motivate consumers to switch to less environ- mentally harmful and resource-consuming products. One of the increasingly popular tools is to label the least harmful products in such a way that consumers can distinguish them from others (OECD, 1991, 1997a; U.S. Environmental Pro- tection Agency [EPA], 1998). The hope is that consumersâ choices will give producers of (relatively) environment-friendly products a competitive advan- *The author would like to express gratitude to Doug McKenzie-Mohr and Paul Stern for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this chapter. 83
84 PROMOTING âGREENâ CONSUMER BEHAVIOR WITH ECO-LABELS tage, allowing them to gradually push less environment-friendly products out of the market (MiljÃ¸- og Energiministeriet, 1995; OECD, 1991). In addition, it is hoped that the anticipated competitive advantage gives companies an incentive to develop new products that are more friendly to the environment (Backman et al., 1995; MiljÃ¸styrelsen, 1996; OECD, 1991; EPA, 1998). Other tools in the Integrated Product Policy toolbox are mandatory stan- dards, taxes and subsidies, and voluntary agreements. These means are not necessarily alternatives to labeling, of course. They may beâand have beenâ used in combination. An important advantage of voluntary means is that they make it possible to proceed faster than is politically feasible by means of legal restrictions and taxes. Eco-labeling is unique in that it rewards proactive compa- nies and thereby has the capacity to harness their innovative creativity to the environmental policy carriage, instead of directing it toward ways of avoiding the consequences of regulation (e.g., Tenbrunsel et al., 1997). In addition, it is hoped that eco-labeling will help increase consumer attention toward, and knowl- edge about, the environmental risks associated with consumption (Backman et al., 1995; MiljÃ¸- og Energiministeriet, 1999; Nordic Council of Ministers, 2001; OECD, 1991, 1997a; EPA, 1998). Others have expressed fear that environmental claims on products may le- gitimize continued consumerism (e.g., Davis, 1992; Durning, 1992) and that the possible environmental gain from a shift to less harmful products may be more than offset by the continued rapid growth in the volume of consumption (e.g., Matthews et al., 2000; United Nations Environment Program, 1994). For exam- ple, many serious environmental impacts from traffic are still increasing in spite of more energy-efficient engines and catalytic converters (Mackenzie, 1997; Noorman and Uiterkamp, 1998), and the volume of waste is still growing in spite of increased recycling (MiljÃ¸- og Energiministeriet, 1999; Waller-Hunter, 2000). Whether eco-labeling contributes to consumer ignorance concerning such devel- opments or, on the contrary, makes them more attentive to the problems associ- ated with growing consumption is a question still not settled by research, to my knowledge. The effectiveness of eco-labeling, in a narrow sense, is reflected in the re- duction in pollution and resource use that can be attributed to the labeling. To calculate its efficiency, the costs of using this measure also should be included (Morris, 1996). However, the full picture of eco-labelingâs effectiveness and efficiency includes positive and negative effects on consumer/citizensâ percep- tions about, attentiveness toward, and readiness to act to solve environmental problems in general. To complicate the issue further, the effectiveness of eco- labels, both in a narrow and in a wider sense, may depend on the mutual imple- mentation of other policy measures (e.g., Gardner and Stern, 1996), notably environmental education and information about the labels.1
â JOHN THOGERSEN 85 ECO-LABELS AND CONSUMER DECISION MAKING Consumer decision making concerning eco-labeled products involves con- siderations about the label as well as about the specific product itself. To reduce the analytical complexity, I consider the decision making as consisting of two interwoven, but partly independent decisionâand learningâprocesses: one con- cerning a specific product and one concerning a specific label. At least in the eyes of the consumer, a product that suddenly comes with an eco-label is an innovation, that is, a new product that differs more or less from the nonlabeled product that it may have replaced and from other nonlabeled products in the same category. The eco-label documents and communicates that the product has certain characteristics leading to outstanding eco-performance. Innovation adoption theory describes the decision to buy such a product as a learning process, consisting of a number of successive phases, where the con- sumer obtains, accumulates, and integrates knowledge about the product and evaluates its self-relevance (e.g., Peter et al., 1999; Rogers, 1995). Communica- tionwise, the process may be conceived as a hierarchy of stages (or effects) that the consumer needs to go through before making a decision to buy the new product. What these stages are, as well as their succession, depends on a number of circumstances, notably how risky the decision is perceived to be (e.g., Hoyer and MacInnis, 1997). Because the decision making process may be lengthy, and can be interrupted anywhere in the process, the evaluation of an eco-labeling schemeâs success should be based not only on its eventual environmental out- comes, but also on its influence on the move from one stage in the decision process to the next (Abt Associates Inc., 1994; Nordic Council of Ministers, 2001). An eco-label is an innovation in itself. Hence, the process through which the consumer learns about and adopts the eco-label also may be described as an innovation adoption process in which the final adoption is reflected in the pur- chase of products carrying the label. The purchase of âx-labeledâ (an eco-label) products is a behavioral category consisting of many independent actions, rather than just a single action (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). An important question, which to my knowledge remains to be answered, is whether consumers form mental categories based on eco-labels, as they have been known to do based on (some) other product characteristics (e.g., Cohen, 1982; Sujan, 1985). Because eco-labels typically are not restricted to one established product category, new mental categories based on eco-labels may cross established boundaries. The formation of such new mental categories is not likely unless consumers perceive environment friendliness as an important product attribute, both in an absolute sense and relative to other salient attributes (Gutman, 1982). Therefore, new cross-boundary eco-categories seem more like- ly to emerge in traditional low-involvement areas, such as groceries, than in traditional high-involvement areas, such as furniture, white goods, and electron-
86 PROMOTING âGREENâ CONSUMER BEHAVIOR WITH ECO-LABELS ic equipment. For example, it seems more likely that consumers will form a new cross-boundary product category for organic food products carrying a third-party eco-label, such as the Danish Ã-label, than for energy-efficient white goods carrying, say, European Unionâs (EUâs) mandatory energy labelingâs A-classifi- cation. If consumers form such categories, they may use them as the basis for category-based decision making in future choice situations when encountering labeled products of the same or different kind(s) (Cohen, 1982; Fiske and Pavel- chak, 1986; Sujan, 1985). This would increase the likelihood of repeat purchase of eco-labeled products and speed up the adoption process for other new prod- ucts wearing the same label. There is evidence that mental categories carry affect, which is used when evaluating entities that fit the category (Cohen, 1982; Fiske and Pavelchak, 1986). Because environmental attitudes seem to have acquired a moral basis for many people in modern society (e.g., Harland et al., 1999; Heberlein, 1972; ThÃ¸gersen, 1996b, 1999), the affect associated with eco- categories may be more charged than usual product-related attitudes (e.g., Peter et al., 1999). Strong category-based affect further increases the likelihood that eco-categories have behavioral implications (Verplanken et al., 1998). RESEARCH ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF ECO-LABELS Of course, environmental labels are useful from an environmental policy perspective only if consumers use them in their decision making. However, there are still few published studies of the effectiveness of labeling schemes in this respect (OECD, 1997a). Most of the published studies focus on consumersâ recognition of or knowledge about labels and/or their trust in them (Bekholm and Sejersen, 1997; Tufte and Lavik, 1997), implicitly or explicitly assuming that these are fundamental prerequisites for the use of a label in decision making. However, practically all studies are purely descriptive, leaving the question of why consumers know, notice, and use labels only sporadically answered. With few exceptions (e.g., Verplanken and Weenig, 1993), it is not systematically considered how the decisions that the labels are meant to influence are made and/or the implications of the decision making process for the functioning and effectiveness of labeling. For example, plenty of evidence shows that how and how much consumers attend to information in a buying situation depends on their involvement (e.g., Celsi and Olson, 1988; Herr and Fazio, 1993; Kokkina- ki, 1997). In general, one cannot count on information about environmental consequences, in the form of a label or otherwise, producing high involvement in itself. The isolated consequencesâ environmental as well as personalâof each individual decision are simply too small in most cases (ThÃ¸gersen, 1998). If this is the case, and if other self-relevant information competes for the consumerâs attentionâsometimes to a degree to which the consumer experiences informa- tion overload (Jacoby, 1984)âconsumers may easily fail to notice relevant la- bels in the buying situation.
â JOHN THOGERSEN 87 In a recent publication, I have reasoned at length about how and why con- sumers attend to eco-labels (ThÃ¸gersen, 2000b). It is emphasized that âpaying attention to eco-labelsâ is hardly a goal in itself, but rather a means to a goal: buying environment-friendly products, which is a means to a more abstract goal about protecting the environment. Thus, it is unlikely that a consumer will pay attention to an environmental label unless he or she values protecting the envi- ronment, perceives that buying (more) environment-friendly products is an ef- fective means to achieve this goal, and finds that the information the label con- veys is useful for this purpose. In addition, the availability of eco-labeled products in the shops and the consumerâs ability to recognize and understand the labels undoubtedly influence attention toward this type of label. Empirically, I find that a large majority of the consumers in four analyzed countries pay attention to eco-labels at least sometimes. As predicted, paying attention to eco-labels is strongly influenced by the belief in considerate buying as a means to protect the environment and by the trust in the labels. The person- al importance of environmental protection (proenvironmental attitude) and per- ceived effectiveness regarding the solving of environmental problems also influ- ence paying attention to eco-labels, but this influence is mediated through the former two concepts (belief and trust). In three of the analyzed cases, there is also an interaction effect between proenvironmental attitude and trust, meaning that the influence of proenvironmental attitude on paying attention is higher when the consumer trusts the label (and the influence of trust higher when the consumer holds a proenvironmental attitude). Environmental Outcomes Only a few studies have attempted to estimate the environmental impact of eco-labels. The most thoroughly evaluated schemesâthe Swedish Society for Nature Conservationâs âGood Environmental Choiceâ label, the Nordic Council of Ministersâ Swan label, and the German Blue Angel labelâare presumably also the most successful ones. For example, the Blue Angel has been credited for a reduction in emissions of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides from oil and gas heating appliances by more than 30 percent and for a reduction in the amount of solvents emitted from paints and varnishes into the environment by some 40,000 tons (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 1995). In Sweden, the Good Environmental Choice and the Nordic Swan labels have been credited for a considerable reduction in (1) chlorinated compounds, acids, and other pollutants from the Swedish forest industry (paper products) (NaturvÃ¥rdsverket, 1997), and (2) the volume and toxicity of house- hold chemical emissions, particularly laundry detergents, down the drains (Beckerus and Rosander HB, 1999; Scandia Consult Sverige AB, 1999; The Swedish Soci- ety for Nature Conservation, 1999). I will elaborate on the latter case. Laundry detergents represent 70 percent of the annual consumption of house-
88 PROMOTING âGREENâ CONSUMER BEHAVIOR WITH ECO-LABELS hold chemicals in Sweden,2 which makes it a particularly environmentally sig- nificant product category. Since the Good Environmental Choice and the Nordic Swan labels were introduced in the late 1980s, Swedish consumers have changed their demand from less to more concentrated products and have rejected the most environmentally harmful chemicals, a development that has been largely attrib- uted to the two labels (Backman et al., 1995). Specifically, the sales volume of household chemicals for cleaning and personal care decreased by 15 percent between 1988 and 1996. Furthermore, in 1996, 60 percent of the chemical ingredients used in soap, shampoo, detergents, and cleaners in 1988 had been removed or replaced by less harmful substances. In 1997, eco-labeled detergents had a market share of more than 90 percent in Sweden. As already mentioned, these are undoubtedly some of the most successful eco-labeling schemes. But still, they encouragingly demonstrate that under the right circumstances, eco-labeling has the power to produce a substantial reduc- tion in the environmental pressure from serious sources of household pollution. Important prerequisites are consumer receptiveness to information about prod- uctsâ environmental attributes (i.e., environmental concern and belief in respon- sible consumer behavior as a means to solve the problem), company willingness to adopt eco-labeling schemes, and sufficient effort in promoting the schemes to consumers. Together, these conditions decisively influence the speed by which consumers become aware of eco-labels and of new eco-labeled products and by which they pass through the subsequent stages in the decision making process. The Eco-Label Hierarchy of Effects Awareness Knowing that a label exists is a prerequisite for using it in decision making. This basic type of knowledge is typically measured as (aided and/or unaided) recall in surveys (e.g., Dyer and Maronick, 1988; OECD, 1997a). The results vary widely, reflecting the presence of labels in the stores, the efforts put into promoting a label, the clarity of the labelâs profile, and its perceived self-rele- vance for consumers (Van Dam and Reuvekamp, 1995). A 1999 survey in the Nordic countries found that between 61 and 75 percent of random samples in Norway, Sweden, and Finland were able to recall the Swan label unaided when asked about which eco-labels could be found on products in their country (Palm and Jarlbro, 1999). Recurrent surveys show that awareness about the Swan label was built gradually in these countries since its introduction in the early 1990s (Backman et al., 1995). In Denmark the unaided recall in 1999 was a much lower 18 percent. Although the Swan label was introduced in the other Nordic countries in 1989, Denmark only became a full member of this labeling scheme in the beginning of 1998, which undoubtedly explains the difference. Between 1997 and 1999, aided recall of the Swan label in Denmark rose from 37 to 51
â JOHN THOGERSEN 89 percent. During that time, the label was promoted through newspaper and mag- azine ads, leaflets in shops, and public relations work and the number of Swan- labeled products in the shops rose from 1,000 to 1,300 (Kampmann, 2000). In Denmark, 31 percent of the respondents mentioned the national organic food label (the Ã-label) unaided, which is substantially higher than in the other Nor- dic countries.3 The unaided recall of EUâs Flower label was below 2 percent in all four countries, and most other environment-related labels also achieved low unaided recall (Palm and Jarlbro, 1999). An indicator of label awareness with particularly high face validity is the recognition of visual images of the label. A Dutch study found a wide variation in the recognition of 11 environment-related labelsâfrom 11.5 percent recogni- tion of the Society of Plastic Industry Symbol to 92.7 percent recognition of the chasing-arrows recycling symbol (Van Dam and Reuvekamp, 1995). The length of time a label was on the market generally correlated with an increase in recog- nition. Recognition also depended on the type and amount of promotion backing the label. A similar study in Denmark in 1997 investigated the recognition of five environment-related and five safety and/or health-related labels (Bekholm and Sejersen, 1997). On average, the environment-related labels were better known, but as in the Netherlands, recognition varied widely, from 18 percent recognizing EUâs Flower label to 89 percent recognizing the chasing-arrows recycling symbol. This study was conducted a few months before Denmark joined the Nordic Swan labeling scheme. Hence, with few Swan-labeled prod- ucts in the shops and no official promotion of the label, it is no wonder that the Swan label was recognized by only 29 percent of respondents. The promotion campaign and increased presence of Swan-labeled products boosted the recogni- tion of the label to just over 40 percent in June 1998 and 52 percent in October 1999 (Palm and Jarlbro, 1999). Also reflecting promotion activities and pres- ence in the shops, the Danish Ã-label (âState Controlled Organicâ label for or- ganic food products) was recognized by 43 percent of a broad sample of con- sumers in 1995, 5 years after its introduction (ThÃ¸gersen and Andersen, 1996), and by 79 percent in 1997 (Bekholm and Sejersen, 1997).4 Even consumers who know a relevant environmental label will not use it if they fail to notice it because of information overload (Jacoby, 1984) or for other reasons. For example, in 1992 it was estimated that 400 to 600 private labels, in addition to 36 labeling schemes issued by public authorities, targeted Danish con- sumers (Forbrugerstyrelsen, 1993). In 1996, a study found environmental claims on 63 percent of the packaged goods within 16 product categories in the major supermarkets in Oslo (Enger, 1998). A minority of 8 percent of the goods carried a third-party environmental label. The study was a partial replication of a 1994 U.S. study that found environmental claims on 65 percent of the packaged goods in 16 product categories in major supermarkets in five large population centers throughout the United States (Mayer and Gray-Lee, 1995). Only 0.3 percent of the American packages carried an environmental label issued by a third party.
90 PROMOTING âGREENâ CONSUMER BEHAVIOR WITH ECO-LABELS Comprehension Recognizing a label is not the same as understanding the exact, or even the approximate, meaning of it. It is well known from other areas that consumers often have a hard time understanding labels (e.g., Laric and Sarel, 1981; Parkin- son, 1975). Van Dam and Reuvekamp (1995) suggest that eco-labels suffer from a double confusion: the âgenericâ confusion from the limited meaning of seals and certifications and a remarkable amount of uncertainty and misunder- standing concerning environmental claims and terminology. Confirming this, one study found that only about 5 percent of a representative sample of U.S. consumers exhibited a thorough understanding of the terms ârecycledâ and âre- cyclableâ (Hastak et al., 1994; see also Morris et al., 1995). Hence, campaigns that effectively target the confusion may lead to a substantial increase in the sale of labeled products, as illustrated by the âGet in the Loop, Buy Recycledâ cam- paign in the state of Washington in 1994-1995.5 Through a focused effort to increase awareness of products with recycled content and comprehension of the claim, the campaign produced a 58-percent increase in sales of recycled products in participating grocery stores. The campaign included prompts placed below products, which served to highlight product availability and substantiate manu- facturer recycled content claims. In addition, posters, employee buttons, and door decals served as reminders for consumers. Of course, less than a thorough understanding may be sufficient for decision making, particularly under low-risk circumstances. Van Dam and Reuvekamp (1995) classified respondentsâ understanding of 11 seals found on Dutch packag- es in three groups: adequate, underestimation, and overestimation of environ- mental implications. Among those recognizing a label, from 9 to 95 percent, depending on the label, had an adequate understanding of its environmental implications. Misunderstandings more often were in the direction of underesti- mation than overestimation. The higher the recognition of a label, the more likely it was also understood accurately (see also Bekholm and Sejersen, 1997), attention seemingly shading off into comprehension (e.g., Peter et al., 1999). As with recognition, there was a positive relationship between understanding and the length of time the label had been on the market. Understanding also depend- ed on the type and extent of promotion, on the labelâs self-relevance, and on the clarity of its environmental profile. For example, two labels that particularly few understood were the German âGreen Dotâ and the Dutch Union of Housewivesâ seal. The former appears on many Dutch packages, but it has no relevance outside Germany. With regard to the latter, the environmental assessment is drowning in the long range of criteria influencing whether the Union endorses the product. Uncertainty about what a label means often is accompanied by mistrust. A consumer only will use a label (as intended) in decision making if he or she trusts the message it conveys (Hansen and Kull, 1994). A large number of
â JOHN THOGERSEN 91 studies have found that consumers tend to be skeptical towards âgreenâ product claims (see Peattie, 1995). One study cited by Peattie (1995) found that 71 percent of British consumers thought that companies were using green issues as an excuse to charge higher prices. However, many studies find that third-party labels and environmental information are trusted more than information provid- ed by producers or retailers (e.g., Bekholm and Sejersen, 1997; Eden, 1994/95; Enger and Lavik, 1995; Tufte and Lavik, 1997). Unfortunately, and perhaps because they are outnumbered so many times by private labels and other types of environmental information, consumers often are uncertain or hold outright erro- neous beliefs about who issues third-party labels (e.g., Bekholm and Sejersen, 1997; Tufte and Lavik, 1997). A Norwegian study found that such mistakes reduce the trust in the Nordic Swan label (Tufte and Lavik, 1997). Attitude Consumers generally welcome informative product labeling (Bekholm and Sejersen, 1997; Forbrugerstyrelsen, 1993). Specifically regarding eco-labels, a previously mentioned study found that from 64 to 91 percent of representative samples in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland agreed that eco-labels are needed (Palm and Jarlbro, 1999). A positive attitude toward eco-labels depends on the consumer believing that he or she can help attain a valued goal (e.g., Forbrugerstyrelsen, 1993; Nilsson et al., 1999; Palm and Windahl, 1998). Just as unit pricing helps the consumer obtain the goal of value for money and nutri- tion declarations facilitate health-related goals, environmental labeling helps con- sumers obtain environmental goals. Hence, a positive attitude toward eco-labels is only likely if consumers desire environment-friendly products.6 Intention and Behavior The intention to buy eco-labeled products is reflected most clearly in con- sumersâ search for and attention to this kind of information. Based on survey data collected by the European Consortium for Comparative Social Surveys (COMPASS) in 1993, I analyzed the frequency of paying attention to eco-labels in Britain, Ireland, Italy, and (two samples from) Germany (ThÃ¸gersen, 2000b). A large majority of consumers in these countries seem to pay attention to eco- labels when they shop, at least sometimes. Only from 8 percent (Great Britain) to 15 percent (Ireland) never do that. Other more recent studies find a similar attentiveness to environmental information. For example, a survey in 1997 found that 61 to 71 percent of random samples of consumers in the Nordic countries claimed that they âsometimesâ or âalwaysâ check out the environment friendli- ness of the products they buy (Lindberg, 1998). The Swedish Consumer Agency monitored the self-reported purchase of eco-labeled products yearly between 1993 and 1997. In this period, the share of
92 PROMOTING âGREENâ CONSUMER BEHAVIOR WITH ECO-LABELS respondents claiming that they bought eco-labeled products regularly rose from 37 to 51 percent (Konsumentverket, 1993, 1995/96, 1998). These numbers are supported by market data. For example, in 1994 eco-labeled products already had captured more than 60 percent of the detergent market and more than 80 percent of the copying and printing paper market in Sweden (Backman et al., 1995). Repeat Purchase There is a lack of studies of repeat purchase of eco-labeled products. It seems that most researchers implicitly assume that all decisions to purchase such products are the same, independent of the consumerâs buying history. That this is hardly true is indicated by some of my own research (ThÃ¸gersen, 1998). Not unexpectedly, I found that a personâs beliefs about product attributes and conse- quences of buying Ã-labeled products depend on the length of his or her experi- ence with buying such products. Beliefs are changed or strengthened based on experience. I also found that experience has a direct and positive influence on the attitude toward buying organic products (after controlling for salient beliefs). Therefore, it seems that the longer a person has bought (labeled) organic prod- ucts, the more positive the personâs attitude is toward buying such products and the less it is based on thorough consideration of the pros and cons of doing so. A followup study by two of my master students7 investigated consumer purchase of 16 different food products (Andersen and Vestergaard, 1998). Based on their data set, I have made the calculations presented in Table 5-1. Table 5-1 indicates that once consumers have started to buy Ã-labeled prod- ucts, they tend to do so increasingly over time, and their propensity to choose labeled products is extended to an increasing number of product categories. Both tendencies are highly significant. In the beginning of this chapter, it was suggest- ed that eco-labels may lead consumers to form new mental categories and that affect related to such a category can have a strong influence on their subsequent behavior. The results presented in Table 5-1 are consistent with this suggestion. TABLE 5-1 Breadth and Depth of Organic Buying Within 16 Product Categories and Length of Buying Experience, Aarhus, Denmark, 1998 (N=232) <1 1-3 3-5 >5 Year Years Years Years F test Pct. of food products organic* 2.3 2.6 2.8 03.5 13.0 Number of organic foods bought 6 8 9 11 13.8 *1=0%, 2=10%, 3=25%, 4=50%, 5=75%, 6=100%.
â JOHN THOGERSEN 93 The Environment-Friendly Product Hierarchy of Effects Studies have found that large segments of Western European and North American consumers demand environment-friendly products in diverse areas such as packaging (Bech-Larsen, 1996; ThÃ¸gersen, 1996a), food products (Biel and Dahlstrand, 1997; Grunert and Juhl, 1995; Sparks and Shepherd, 1992; ThÃ¸gersen, 1998), paint (Buchtele and Holzmuller, 1990), and heating systems (Berger et al., 1994). Few products are acquired with the sole (or main) purpose of protecting the environment, however. Typically, consumers buy goods for the private utility they provide. Still, many consumers are willing to make an effort to diminish the negative environmental impact of their consumption, and environmental labels are welcomed as a tool for this purpose. Given that envi- ronmental attributesâas long as they do not represent any personal threatâare peripheral to what the consumer wants to achieve through their purchase, the issue usually should not be expected to be a high-involvement one. It is well documented in the cited studies that proenvironmental attitudes increase con- sumersâ propensity to buy environment-friendly products. Less researched in this connection is Fazioâs (1986; Roskos-Ewoldsen and Fazio, 1992) proposition that attitudes also influence which information about a product a consumer pays attention to, including information about the productâs environmentally relevant characteristics (but see ThÃ¸gersen, 1999). The limited space available here makes it impossible to thoroughly review the huge literature on environment-friendly consumer behavior. Thus, I concen- trate on the two areas where I believe that eco-labels have the greatest potential impact: (1) increasing consumer confidence in green claims, and (2) helping consumers carry out intentions to choose environment-friendly products. Confidence in Green Claims Basically green purchase behavior depends on the compromise consumers have to make in the form of higher price and/or lower quality and on the confi- dence they have in their choice leading to desirable environmental consequences (Peattie, 1999). The toughest green products to sell are those that require a large compromise and where consumersâ confidence in it making any environmental difference is low. Successful green products typically enjoy high confidence and demand no or low compromise from consumers. Thus, by increasing con- sumer confidence in the credibility and the significance of green claims, third- party eco-labels may greatly improve the market prospects of environment- friendly products. Calculations based on data collected for a master thesis that I supervised may serve as an illustration (Andersen, 1995). Respondents were a broad sample of individuals8 responsible for their householdâs food shopping. One sample was interviewed about their purchase of organic milk, another about organic carrots. The most important environmen-
94 PROMOTING âGREENâ CONSUMER BEHAVIOR WITH ECO-LABELS Milk, N=202 Carrots, N=195 5 5 4.5 4.5 4 4 3.5 3.5 3 3 2.5 2.5 2 2 1.5 1.5 1 1 0.5 0.5 0 0 High Low High Low compromise compromise High confidence Low confidence FIGURE 5-1 The purchase of organic milk and carrots in groups differing in confidence in environmental consequences and perceived compromise, Denmark 1995. tal benefit from organic production is that it leads to less groundwater pollution than chemically based agriculture. Hence, agreement with the statement that by buying the organic product in question the consumer contributes to groundwater protection is used as an indicator of confidence in it making an environmental difference. In Denmark, the only real compromise when buying organic food products is higher price. Thus, agreement with the statement that the organic product in question is expensive is used as an indicator of perceived compro- mise. The average number of times the respondent reportedly chose organic out of the last 10 purchases of the product is shown graphically in Figure 5-1, using the confidence and perceived compromise indicators (split at the scaleâs mid- point) as grouping variables. In both cases, both grouping variables make a highly significant difference (F-test), the lowest F-value being 5.664. There are no significant interactions. It is obvious from Figure 5-1 that consumers with a high confidence and who perceive the compromise as low are also most likely to buy organic prod- ucts, and that the reverse combination of beliefs is much less facilitating. It is also apparent that even consumers who perceive the compromise to be high are much more likely to buy organic products if they also have a high confidence in
â JOHN THOGERSEN 95 the contributionâs environmental implications. Therefore, if an eco-label in- creases consumer confidence in the implied green claim, the impact on the pur- chase of an environment-friendly product may be substantial. In fact, in the present case an eco-label had exactly this effect. In Denmark, organic food products carry the Ã-label (with the text âState Controlled Organicâ). Respon- dents in this study were asked to point out the correct Ã-label among three alternative designs. Forty-three percent of both samples were able to do that. Those who knew the label (i.e., who picked the right one) had a significantly higher confidence in the choice making an environmental difference than those who did not (tmilk = 3.467, p < .001; tcarrots = 3.488, p < .001). The Implementation of Decisions to Buy Green Several studies have demonstrated that environment-friendly behavior often depends on specific, task-related information (e.g., Bell et al., 1996; Kearney and De Young, 1995; Pieters, 1991; ThÃ¸gersen, 2000a). Consumers need specif- ic and reliable information in order to be able to choose the most environmental- ly friendly alternative when competing options are offered or to do the right thing when asked to change a behavioral routine. Figure 5-2 illustrates the importance of (knowing) an environmental label, the Danish Ã-label for organic products, for transforming environment-friendly Milk Carrots 9 9 8 8 Label 7 Label 7 recognized, recognized, 6 2 6 2 r = 0.60 r = 0.72 Buying frequency Buying frequency 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 Label not 2 Label not recognized, 1 recognized, 1 2 2 r = 0.50 r = 0.39 0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 -1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 -1 -2 -2 Intention Intention FIGURE 5-2 The influence of knowing the Ã-label on the relationship between buying intention and buying frequency regarding organic milk and organic carrots, Denmark, 1995.
96 PROMOTING âGREENâ CONSUMER BEHAVIOR WITH ECO-LABELS buying intentions into action. The data set is the same as that used in Figure 5-1, but in this case I analyze whether the respondentâs ability to point out the true Ã- label among three alternative designs influences the relationship between buying intentions and buying frequency (number of organic out of the last 10 liter/kilo). Separate regression analyses were made for split samples concerning each prod- uct: those choosing the correct design (43 percent of the sample in each case) and the rest. The lines are regression lines. The results are in principle identical in the two cases, but the effect of knowing the Ã-label is somewhat stronger for milk than for carrots.9 The differ- ence may be due to some organic carrots being grown in oneâs own garden or bought at open markets, where there are other means to identify an organic product than the Ã-label, while organic milk can only be bought only from retail outlets. The regression analyses illustrate that knowing the Ã-label has a substantial effect on buying frequency among those with a high buying intention, but no effect among those with a low buying intention. They also show that the rela- tionship between buying intentions and buying frequency is stronger among con- sumers who are able to identify the correct Ã-label than among consumers who are not.10 Hence, the study shows that by increasing consumersâ ability to distin- guish environment-friendly products, eco-labels can facilitate the implementa- tion of environment-friendly intentions. SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND IMPLICATIONS Eco-labeling is aimed at reducing pollution and resource use associated with consumption by influencing consumer choices and, through these, companiesâ product policies. In the past couple of decades, eco-labeling has become a popular environment policy instrument in countries all over the world. Few schemes have been sufficiently thoroughly evaluated to be able to draw conclusions about their success. From those that have, it seems that, under the right conditions, eco- labeling can indeed lead to a substantial reduction in pollution and resource use. However, it takes time and a committed effort to build eco-labeling success. In particular, consumers have to go through an often time-consuming decision mak- ing process through which they first become aware of the label, and of labeled products, and then acquire sufficient knowledge to use it as a guide in decision making and to trust the message it conveys. A positive attitude toward eco-labels probably follows more or less automatically from knowledge and trust, but form- ing a positive attitude toward buying a specific eco-labeled product may take longer because time-consuming tradeoffs need to be made. Therefore, decision making about eco-labels is a gradual process and one that consumers go through at an uneven pace. Among other things, consumer receptiveness toward this kind of information and, hence, the pace depends on their environmental concern. The speed of diffusion of eco-labels also depends on the clarity of the labelâs profile,
â JOHN THOGERSEN 97 the intensity of its promotion, and its presence in the shops. The latter is particu- larly crucial for the outcome of the decision making. There are, of course, a variety of other means that governments can use in their efforts to reduce the environmental impact of consumption. Labeling is obviously no substitute for legal restrictions and standards regulating, for example, the flow of harmful substances through the household, and taxes and subsidiesâ attempting to secure that nonmarket environmental impacts are reflected in the relative pricesâmay effectively influence consumer choices (e.g., Andersen and Sprenger, 2000; Von Weizsacker and Jesinghaus, 1992). There is no reason to believe that eco-labeling renders any of these means obsoleteâ on the contrary. Just keeping the environmental impact of consumption from increasing is an ambi- tious goal that will demand the effective use of all available means. In addition, there may be important synergies to be obtained from the coordinated implementa- tion of several means (see, e.g., Gardner and Stern, 1996; Stern, 1999). The fact that eco-labels compete with many other types of information in the shopping situation, including other informative labels and producersâ noncerti- fied green claims, acts as a noise wall that third-party eco-labels need to break through. Studies have shown that many consumers are uncertain about who issues third-party eco-labels and that this uncertainty reduces the trust in such labels. On the other hand, it has been shown that third-party eco-labels can increase the confidence in green claims and help distinguish environment-friend- ly products, thus increasing the likelihood of such products being bought. There is also evidence that experience with buying a product with an eco-label facili- tates future decisions about buying this product, as well as other products wear- ing the same label. I suggested that the latter effect might be due to consumers forming new mental categories based on eco-labels and that such categories may carry affect. Research on the commitment approach to behavior change is infor- mative regarding the type of affect in question (see, e.g., McKenzie-Mohr and Smith, 1999). According to this line of research, the purchase of an eco-labeled product can alter a personâs self-perception to that as the type of person who buys eco-labeled products (cf., e.g., Hutton, 1982). There is plenty of evidence indicating that many people perceive a strong internal pressure to behave consis- tently with such a self-perception. Expressions of commitment seem to have stronger impacts on future behavior when they are voluntary (e.g., Shippee and Gregory, 1982) and public (e.g., Pallak et al., 1980), both of which typically characterize individual purchase acts. The mentioned conclusions are based on scattered evidence and the evalua- tion of few schemes. There is a need for more, and more thorough and systemat- ic, evaluations of eco-labeling schemes, particularly with a view to better identi- fy manageable conditions for success. Special attention should be directed toward design characteristics that influence how consumers use labeling schemes in their decision making, including characteristics that facilitate and amplify the use of eco-labels as a basis for category-based decision making. Other more
98 PROMOTING âGREENâ CONSUMER BEHAVIOR WITH ECO-LABELS basic questions about eco-labeling remain unanswered, such as whether it con- tributes to consumer ignorance or makes them more attentive toward the prob- lems associated with the continued rapid growth in private consumption. Hope- fully this chapter will inspire future research on these topics. NOTES 1 In this volume, Chapter 6, Valente and Schuster, make a similar point with regard to public health communication. 2 Dry weight. 3 The national organic food label was mentioned by 16 percent in Sweden, 5 percent in Fin- land, and 1.4 percent in Norway. 4 The two studies used different ways to measure recognition, meaning they are not strictly comparable. 5 More information about this case can be found at http://www.toolsofchange.com/English/ CaseStudies/default.asp?ID=8 and at McKenzie-Mohrâs Web site, http://www.cbsm.com. I am grate- ful to him for bringing the case to my attention. 6 Unless they believe other advantages are associated with environmental friendliness (ThÃ¸gers- en, 1998). A recent Danish study found that âquality consciousâ consumers use the Danish Ã-label as one among several cues indicating high product quality (Juhl et al., 2000). 7 A mall-intercept survey carried out in three shopping centers in Aarhus, Denmark, in 1998. 8 Fourteen acquaintances of the master students all over Denmark distributed questionnaires to some of their acquaintances, with the instruction to cover age groups (above 20 years) as broadly as possible. The data were collected in 1995. 9 The interaction between buying intention and knowing the Ã-label is statistically significant (p < than 0.05) in both cases. The hierarchical regression analysis used to test for the interaction effect is reported in ThÃ¸gersen and Andersen (1996). 10 The somewhat surprising positive correlation between intention and behavior among those who are not able to identify the correct design may be because only one label design is available in the supermarket or because consumers in some casesâcorrect or mistakenlyâuse other cues to identify organic products. Of course, it also may be caused by a tendency to exaggerate organic buying that is correlated with stated buying intentions. REFERENCES Abt Associates Inc. 1994 Determinants of Effectiveness for Environmental Certification and Labeling Programs. Cambridge, MA: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ajzen, I., and M. Fishbein 1980 Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pren- tice-Hall. Andersen, A.K. 1995 Vigtige aspekter ved forminskelsen af inkonsistensen mellem forbrugerens positive holdning til at kÃ¸be Ã¸kologiske landbrugsprodukter og forbrugerens reelle kÃ¸b af Ã¸kolo- giske landbrugsprodukter (Important Aspects Regarding the Inconsistency Between Consumer Attitudes and Purchase of Organic Products). Unpublished MSc disserta- tion. Ã rhus, Den.: HandelshÃ¸jskolen i Ã rhus.
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