Green product labels may discourage conservative buyers, studies show

Apr. 30, 2013 @ 06:04 PM

One of two studies examining the impact of political ideology on a consumer’s choice to buy energy-efficient products in the United States found that a label touting the product’s environmental benefit may deter politically conservative shoppers.

The studies were done by Dena Gromet and Howard Kunreuther from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and Rick Larrick from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Their paper “Political Ideology Affects Energy-Efficient Attitudes and Choices,” is published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“A popular strategy for marketing energy efficiency is to focus on its environmental benefits,” said Gromet, who was the lead author on the studies. “But not everyone values protecting the environment.”

In one study that involved 210 people, participants were given information about their political ideology. They were given $2 to spend on a light bulb and could keep what they did not spend.

They were educated about the benefits of the more energy efficient compact fluorescent light, or CFL, bulbs. Some of the CFL bulbs came with a “protect the environment" sticker while others had a blank sticker.

In some cases, the CFL bulb was priced at $1.50, while the traditional incandescent bulb was 50 cents. When the more expensive CFL came with no environmental label, liberals and conservatives selected it at roughly the same high frequency.

However, when the more expensive CFL bulb also was accompanied by a "protect the environment” sticker, participants identifying as more politically moderate or conservative were less likely to buy it.

For other participants, both incandescent and CFL bulbs were priced at 50 cents. All but one of these participants bought the CFL bulb regardless of the sticker.

The other study surveyed 657 U.S. adults. Participants were asked questions about the psychological value they placed on reducing carbon dioxide emissions to protect the environment and other issues, how much they favored investing in energy-efficient technology, and about their political ideologies.

The more conservative the participant, the less likely that person was to support investing in energy-efficient technology.