The consumer "sustainability penalty"

The consumer "sustainability penalty"

This article originally appeared in the Energy Management and Innovation Center blog.

Everyone wants to buy "green" products, right? After all, we tell ourselves we care about the environment and the resources left to future generations. However, research shows that while 40 percent of consumers say they are willing to buy "green products," only four percent actually do so when given the option.

What accounts for this discrepancy between what people say and what they do? Researchers from the Department of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business, including Julie Irwin and Raj Raghunathan (in the photo above), have looked into this issue.

"We conducted a series of controlled laboratory experiments, as well as a field study, to shed light on this issue. The goal of our research was to demonstrate that sustainability, though appealing as a virtue on its own, can sometimes be a liability with respect to consumer preferences," the researchers said.

The team found that there is a "sustainability penalty" levied on goods where durability and strength are key decision factors; in other words, all things being equal, people are skeptical of eco-friendly tires or laundry detergent being as effective or durable as "traditional" products. Conversely, products where gentleness is a key decision factor (for example, baby shampoo), no such penalty exists.

Their findings also identify ways companies who make sustainable products can explain their products in ways that help mitigate this penalty, for example, listing a product guarantee on the packaging.

Read a full excerpt of the study in the center's new Energy Management Briefs.