Going green: it's all about showing off, says prof

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Excuse me while I pop my organic vegetables in the oven and wipe my hands on recycled kitchen roll. I'll only be a moment. Now, I'm ready to tell you all about the reasons why wonderful people like me just love to buy eco-friendly products.

"Green purchases are often motivated by status," says Vladas Griskevicius, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

"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."

Griskevicius examined the shopping behaviour of people in public and private situations. And guess what - people will forgo indulging themselves only when others can see it.

The effect is even stronger when the green product costs more than the non-green one.

"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," says Griskevicius.

So when people shop alone online, they choose products that are luxurious. But when they're out in public, the scratchy recycled toilet roll wins every time.

Nowhere is this clearer, says Griskevicius, than the highly visible and easily identifiable Toyota Prius, which "essentially functions as a mobile, self-promoting billboard for pro-environmentalism," he says.

"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," says Griskevicius.

The full paper is here.