Is it really just a (green) popularity contest?
New research suggests that the primary motivator in sustainable purchases such as the Toyota Prius is social status, but can it be true that actual climate concerns fall by the wayside?
Tuesday, April 6, 2010 - 15:22
STATUS OR SUSTAINABLE: Researchers found that many purchase hybrids like the Prius as a symbol of status as opposed to belief in climate change. (Photo: no body atoll/Flickr)
While combing through the daily news the other day, I came across an interesting article that addressed the reasons why consumers choose green products. It seems that a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology concluded that the motivating factor in most "green" purchases is the improvement of social status.
The study, titled "Going Green to Be Seen," found that students were more likely to choose green products when they were in public as opposed to if they were shopping alone online. It also found that students who were exposed to a reading concerning social status were 17 percent more likely to choose green products than the control group who were not exposed to the reading.
While it is true that making environmentally-conscious decisions has become the "in" thing over the past few years, I always credited this new-found popularity to an awakening that was a long time coming. As an activist-type college student, I like to believe that others made socially conscious decisions to do just that: be socially conscious. Therefore, when I read this article I began thinking: is it all really just a popularity contest?
I began to think about when and why I decided to buy environmentally sustainable products, and to tell you the truth it was long after the movement had gained momentum. In fact, it wasn't until I took a peace and justice course in school when I really began thinking of the environment as a factor in ethical decisions and peace and justice. The course opened my eyes to the need to think about consumption and conservation. Therefore, I know that the reason I bought my reusable water bottle, or why I unplug all my appliances and changed my light bulbs wasn't to be popular, instead it was to be responsible. But even though I was satisfied with the fact that my green purchases and decisions aren't selfish, I still wondered if I could say the same for others. I decided to ask others around me why they choose to be green and here are the best answers that I received. Ironically, and much to my appeal, being popular wasn't on the list.
1) Conservation. Many students expressed a desire to think beyond the "right now" and preserve the world that they will have to live in tomorrow. The world that they will raise their families in.
2) Pollution. The animal lovers who I spoke to expressed how they want to do their part to stop pollution and the destruction of the natural habitats of other species. These students felt that if they did their part in recycling, every little bit could make a big difference.
3) Save money. I don't think there is a single thing that a college student won't do to save money, but it just so happens that this one helps others as well. Students I spoke to admitted to changing light bulbs and taking shorter showers in order to keep the bills short as well.
4) Being healthy. It's no surprise that organic foods are better for you than processed goods with no expiration date. So when the college students I interviewed, many of whom are trying to avoid the Freshman (or Junior) 15, focus on being healthy, organic is often the way they go.
These are just a few of many reasons why individuals choose to go green. While I don't doubt that there are some individuals who are solely motivated by how they are perceived, the optimistic side of me is still holding out hope that the vast majority of people who purchase "green" products are really just doing their part to help the environment. I don't agree with the researchers' conclusion, but one thing that this research does bring about is the idea that we may have lost touch with why this whole movement got started in the first place.
Ask yourself, "why do I choose green?" The answer may surprise you.
Thumbnail photo: telokaspo/Flickr
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