Why Consumers Buy Green (qSample Study)

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Buying green is a rising trend with the clean sky as the limit. It has become a normative part of modern society. But exactly why do people buy green? Like so many purchasing choices, it may seem obvious:

It feels good.

However, it’s not that obvious on a closer look. That is because buying green is different than other purchasing choices, and the difference has been widely overlooked in earlier studies conducted by market researchers. A qSample study discovered the core reasons. They relate to the reality of a third-party being involved in the transaction.

When buying green, an individual is not directly rewarded by product per se. Instead, another entity collects the perceived benefits: the community, the planet, animal population, etc. The reward to the buyer ultimately comes in the form of civic aspects: community pride, social responsibility, investment in other life forms, wellbeing for future generations, etc.

This is known as the Generalized Exchange Model. It hypothesizes that four variables play a role in determining attitudes or propensity to perform behaviors. Those variables include:

–  Feeling of social responsibility.
  Feelings of social equity.
  Perceived effectiveness of the behavior (performance).
  Benefits to the community.

Put it simply: Buying green feels good because it makes others feel good (and it looks good too).

By examining the sample data of the qSample study, and employing qualifying analysis, one can detect a Generalized Exchange Model. First, the data reveals how ostensibly passionate consumers are when it comes to buying green or environmental issues:

–  64% are concerned with the environment.
–  76% consider the environment when making shopping decisions.
–  77% recycle frequently.
  32% feel global warming is the more urgent environmental cause.
  36% believe that conversing resources is the most important issue in the U.S.

On the other hand, the study revealed that the passion for green issues declines when it comes to personal sacrifice or an engaged understanding for the environment.

For example, a question in the survey asked: “If you could choose between more expensive but environmentally friendly items, or cheaper but less environmentally friendly items, which would you choose?” 56% surveyed answered that they would choose a less environmentally friendly items. In another section, more than 50% of respondents would rather increase recycling rather than adopt costlier methods of assisting the environment (stricter laws, higher taxes, expanding public transportation, etc.).

Here more statistics exposing how disconnected consumers are in actually living green:

  15% would pick a company to work at based on its green initiatives.
  41% are indifferent whether a company advertises/promote green issues.
  67% believe that companies talk more about being green that actually walk the walk.
  42% have no idea what a definition of green really is (while 33% claim there is no definition for the word).
  17% subscribe to National Geographic (all other subscriptions to environmentally-themed magazines were 5% or under; and even placing National Geographic under that label is arguable).

What all of this contradicting data reveals, again using qualifying analysis, is that respondents are interested in satisfaction under the Generalized Exchange Model, but aren’t exactly personally (directly) vested in it.

(It should be noted that the study scarcely touched on organic/non-GMO foods, as those obviously have perceived direct benefits to consumers.)

There is nothing aberrant about this type of consumer behavior. The Social Exchange Model is employed widely in society, such as in volunteering, military service, political activism, and others. What is important to understand is the third-party reason consumers buy green. As far as market research goes, study author Rudly Raphael concluded:

Green behaviors can be influenced through a variety of variables: community benefits, social responsibility, performance effectiveness of the green behaviors, attitudes, and social rewards. All of these variables can be strengthened through promotion, especially advertising. Attitudes can be changed directly by using a spokesperson who is highly regarded by the target market. Perception of social rewards can be increased by showing people being praised by others for their environmentally-friendly behaviors. Perceived community benefits can increased through informational advertising showing how the community gains from green behaviors. Perceived performance can be increased by providing information on how green products and services impact the environmental aspects people care about.

Some may see this as an exploitation of guilt paired with ignorance. Yet guilt and ignorance have never been roadblocks to market research, and often tools of it—for better or worse.

In this case, as the planet, animals, and future generations benefit from this, it seems to be for the better.

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