New research suggests that people with right wing views are less likely to buy light bulbs that are labeled as “pro-environment” due to the politicized nature of the carbon debate in the United States. In a study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dena Gromet of Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that consumers’ purchasing decisions are divided along party lines.
In the study, 210 potential purchasers were given information about the benefits of CFL bulbs which last 9,000 hours longer than incandescent and cut energy costs by 75 percent. They were then asked to choose between the options with a portion of the CFLs labeled with a “protect the environment sticker”. Political divisions were evident with conservatives opting for the incandescents. However, when all of the bulbs were set at the same price, all subjects except for one chose the CFLs regardless of political camp.
“Our results demonstrated that a choice that wasn’t ideologically polarizing without a (“protect the environment”) label became polarizing when we included that environmental labeling,” Gromet explained. “We saw a significant drop-off in conservative people choosing to buy a more expensive, energy-efficient option. When we asked afterward, those consumers identified the CFL bulbs as providing greater monetary savings over time. But they would forgo that option when that product was made to represent a value that was not something they wanted to be identified with.”
Her research suggests that labeling products to reflect the values of buyers could potentially backfire. Even among liberals, the green message does not always have as strong of as positive message as the negative influence it has on the other side of the divide. While they still need more data to confirm their suspicions, the researchers did not see a particularly large boost in sales with environmentally responsible labeling. According to such marketing experts as Jacquelyn Ottman, author of The New Rules of Green Marketing, there could still be lingering mistrust based on old misguided stereotypes that tried to tell us that green products do not work, are overpriced, and political persuasion prompting some to shun them. These products also have to compete against already long-established brands, and that the notion that green PR is simply a way to swindle people from their hard-earned cash.
Gromet hopes to further investigate how short-term and long-term savings influence purchases, especially considering most environmentally-friendly products tend to cost more up front. With global climate change and emissions standing as one of the most important challenges our planet faces, we can only hope that enlightened marketing will do its part to help consumers make informed choices.