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Is pride key to making greener choices and saving the planet?

New research reckons that recalling previous green behaviour has a more positive impact on making future sustainable and environmentally friendly choices than feeling guilty.

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Consumers think about carbon when buying a car, but fewer do when buying white goods
Consumers think about carbon when buying a car, but fewer do when buying white goods

Recalling previous green behaviour has a more positive impact on making future sustainable and environmentally friendly choices than feeling guilt, according to new research.

 

The findings are published in the paper, Pride in my past: Influencing sustainable choices through behavioural recall, and was conducted by Warwick Business School, Cranfield School of Water, Energy, and the Environment and Trinity Business School, Dublin.

 

Low carbon pride

 

In a series of experiments, researchers asked more than 300 people what kind of car they would buy next. Those who were first reminded of the pride they felt after a previous ‘sustainable purchase’ were significantly more likely to anticipate feeling proud about buying a low-carbon car in the future – as well as significantly more guilty if they imagined making an environmentally damaging choice.

 

As a result, they were significantly more likely to choose a low-carbon car. This was because they wanted to repeat the same positive feelings of pride.

 

By contrast, those asked to recall the guilt they felt following an unsustainable purchase were no more likely to anticipate feeling proud about buying a low carbon car in future. Nor were they more likely to anticipate feeling guilty about buying a higher-emission model.

 

It also claims that making people feel guilty about past purchases that were not environmentally friendly did not encourage them to ‘buy green’ in future.

 

Behaviour change is key to tackling climate change and building a greener planet whether it be flying less or avoiding beef. WBS said that while most people state that they care about being sustainable, only a few “deep green” consumers currently change their behaviour.

 

The findings could encourage marketers to re-think the way they sell green products and behaviours, such as solar cells and adding house insulation, to the public.

“Rather than making people feel guilty, it is possible to make people feel good about their past achievements and encourage them to make sustainable choices in future"

Hugh Wilson, professor of marketing at WBS and lead researcher on the project, said: “Attempts to encourage consumers to make more sustainable choices have traditionally been dominated by negative emotions, such as guilt and fear.

 

“While this has achieved some success, it can have a really bad side effect: people can lose heart and give up.

 

“Rather than making people feel guilty, it is possible to make people feel good about their past achievements and encourage them to make sustainable choices in future.

 

“This is not restricted to choosing which products to buy. It may prove equally useful to promote other sustainable behaviours such as driving less and saving energy at home.”

 

Professor Wilson, who initiated Cranfield University’s carbon rogramme which helped it to reduce its carbon emissions by almost a third, said further research is required to check which decisions anticipated pride is best at engendering.

 

“For example, many consumers think about carbon when buying a car, but fewer do when buying kitchen white goods. Similarly, they think about social sustainability – such as being fair to farmers more when buying coffee or tea than soft drinks or alcohol.


“For categories like soft drinks, we’ve found you need to use social forces, too.”

 

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