Consumer Involvement

Activism, as measured by Gallup through membership in an environmental group, remains limited in the United States and Europe (7 to 11 percent of citizens belong to such a group) and almost nonexistent in Japan (4 percent belong). In keeping with consumer skepticism, purchase behavior is more clearly defined in terms of avoidance than positive choice. As many as 81 percent of Germans, 57 percent of Americans, and 40 percent of Japanese have actively avoided products perceived as harmful. Positive choices tend to occur at lower levels. A 1990 Roper survey on the U.S. environment, for instance, found that only 14 percent of Americans regularly bought products with recycled content or in refillable packaging (Roper Organization, 1990). This is linked to the current lack of ecolabeling standards, but it may also suggest that the ''greenness" of a product is not in itself a purchase trigger but rather is one component of perceived overall quality.

Postpurchase behavior appears at first to show clearer patterns, but it is actually more difficult to interpret. According to Roper, in 1990, 71 percent of Americans practiced recycling. However, recycling ranges from being mandatory in some areas (particularly metropolitan suburbs and the Northeast) to nonexistent in others. Recycling rates may therefore reflect compliance with the law rather than individual commitment. Other behaviors with a potentially greater impact were resisted if they conflicted with personal freedom. Only 8 percent of Americans polled by Roper car use, for example (Roper Organization, 1990).

Evolution of Consumer Concerns

Roper Starch Worldwide reported an attitude change in the United states during the period 1989–1993 (Roper Organization, 1993). Public concern about the environment apparently peaked in 1991 and has plateaued at a higher level than any previous decade. Environmental concerns may have abated for two reasons: the relatively higher salience of recession, crime, and health care in the 1990s, and the fact that environmental action has now gone mainstream, partly shifting ecology from a hot issue to a core business activity.

Purchase behavior as well as perceptions of advertising suggest increasing confusion about what constitutes a truly green brand or company. Despite their considerable expenditures on advertising with environmental themes, companies have mostly not succeeded in gaining consumers' trust. In U.S. purchase decisions, a product's environmental record ranks well below attributes such as price, quality, and past experience with the brand. Environmental image, however, is the only factor in brand choice besides price that has shown significant growth in the past 4 years (Stisser, 1994).

Environmental concerns also vary considerably across product categories and are directly related to the ease of finding substitutes. Lawn, garden, and household cleaning products topped the list of products where environmental attributes

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