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Green Marketing: How Do Consumers Decide to Buy Sustainable Products?

How do consumers decide when faced with the option of buying a traditional product or a competing product that is marketed as “green?” Penn State Smeal College of Business faculty member Karen Winterich and her colleagues set out to develop a scale of “green consumption values” to help predict which consumers will prefer to purchase environmentally friendly products.
March 31, 2014

How do consumers decide when faced with the option of buying a traditional product or a competing product that is marketed as “green?”  Penn State Smeal College of Business faculty member Karen Winterich and her colleagues set out to develop a scale of “green consumption values” to help predict which consumers will prefer to purchase environmentally friendly products.

The researchers define “green consumption values” as the tendency of consumers to express the value of environmental protection through the goods and services they purchase. To measure those values, researchers developed a six-item measure they call the GREEN scale, consisting of the following statements:

  • It is important to me that the products I use do not harm the environment.
  • I consider the potential environmental impact of my actions when making many of my decisions.
  • My purchase habits are affected by my concern for the environment.
  • I am concerned about wasting the resources of our planet.
  • I would describe myself as environmentally responsible.
  • I am willing to be inconvenienced in order to take actions that are more environmentally friendly.


“Our primary goal is to develop a concise measure of exclusively green consumption values, as opposed to broader attitudes toward socially responsible behavior or environmental consciousness,” the researchers write.

“Our primary goal is to develop a concise measure of exclusively green consumption values, as opposed to broader attitudes toward socially responsible behavior or environmental consciousness."

In applying the GREEN scale across a series of six studies, the researchers also found that green consumption values tend to exist within a larger network of ideas and beliefs about conservation.

“We demonstrate that green consumption values are strongly related to the careful use of not just collective, environmental resources, but also personal resources,” the researchers write. “That is, both the tendency to use financial resources wisely … and the tendency to use physical resources wisely … are positively correlated with green consumption values.”

In other words, consumers that value green consumption also tend to value financial savings and reuse and repurpose goods rather than quickly disposing of them. Consumers with this set of values may experience some conflict if environmentally friendly products are more expensive or less effective than their traditional counterparts. How do consumers resolve this?

The researchers found that consumers with high green consumption values tend to evaluate products that align with these values more favorably. This “motivated reasoning” tends to counteract the perception that environmentally friendly products are less effective and/or more costly.

The GREEN scale, say the researchers, can be useful to marketing practitioners in predicting consumer preference for environmentally friendly products in a particular market or demographic.

“For example, marketers may need to continue to emphasize a value-conscious focus when positioning [environmentally friendly] products to reach consumers with higher green consumption values that also value personal financial resources,” the researchers write.

In addition, it can help marketing researchers understand how a consumer’s values affect his or her responses to environmentally based marketing actions.

Because of the motivated reasoning aspect, marketers “may need to focus more on what can be done to increase purchase of [environmentally friendly] products among consumers with weaker green consumption values since those with stronger green consumption values are motivated to do so on their own,” the researchers write.

The article “Seeing the world through GREEN-tinted glasses: Green consumption values and responses to environmentally friendly products” is forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Winterich’s coauthors include Kelly L. Haws of the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management and Rebecca Walker Naylor of the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business.

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