As a responsible consumer, you try to save energy and water, sort waste, and buy ecological products. One day, you’re browseing online stores and find a hoodie labeled eco-friendly. Aiming to be sustainable, you decide to buy the hoodie just because of its eco-label and you don’t research the product’s background. Just like that, you’ve bought a seemingly sustainable product impulsively.
Why do responsible consumers who carefully plan their shopping still buy things impulsively?
“Recent studies have shown that green buying is not only something that is conscious and requires considerable cognitive efforts. It may also be habitual and impulsive. People may choose a responsibly manufactured tea as an impulse buy and realize back home that they already have five or six similar teapackages in the cupboard”, says Svetlana Obukhovich, Junior Researcher at the LUT School of Business and Management.
Green buying behavior means purchasing products that are eco-friendly, recyclable, or biodegradable, and avoiding items that are detrimental to the atmosphere and community. Obukhovich is working on her doctoral dissertation, in which she examines green buying behavior and the role of product information – product descriptions, slogans and eco-labels – in the impulsive and planned buying of sustainable products.
"We’ve obtained exciting preliminary results revealing that sustainable product descriptions and eco-labels have a stronger effect on purchase intentions than conventional product information. Furthermore, we are going to conduct a marketing experiment and manipulate an impulsive and reflective decision-making process to analyze the role of information in these two types of conditions.”
Information overload weakens decision making
According to Obukhovich, consumers often try to adapt green buying as a daily routine, but may face obstacles. For example, there might be problems with product availability and the amount of product information, which play an important role in consumers’ decision-making.
“Sometimes information about green products is overwhelming and even contradictory. Some products may even be advertised as eco-friendly even though they are not. We might be exposed to information overload, which means too much information of no use. The phenomenona weakens effective decision-making”, Obukhovich says.
Because of information overload, we may not have patience to compare different choices or familiarize ourselves with the manufacturing process when buying a hoodie, for example.
“Modern consumers are drawn into the information flows. Product information might shift consumers’ buying choices from planned and thought-out to reckless and spontaneous. We want to study how information about green products affects our decision-making process and what the underlying psychological mechanisms are that shape our choices.”
The study Reflective and impulsive triggers of green buying includes an online experiment targeted for all consumers regardless of their age and sustainability experience.
“As the market share of green products grows dramatically and all consumers are involved in the buying process in one way or another, we need to study the phenomena based on the general consumer population."
Conflicting reactions towards sustainable consumption
Assistant Professor Jenni Sipilä at the LUT School of Business and Management notes that especially sustainable consumption often causes conflicting reactions in people.
"For example, many of us think that it’s a good thing to buy sustainable products but at the same time feel they are more expensive or have a worse selection than so-called normal products. Or we may think that recycling makes us feel better but also perceive recycling as a difficult or annoying chore”, says Sipilä, who is carrying out consumer research funded by the Academy of Finland.
The carbon footprint of the average Finn is over 10 000 kg CO2e per person per year, while the globally sustainable level would be about a ton. To solve the climate crisis, everyone should reflect on their own consumption. Due to the global energy crisis, Finnish ministries, the state sustainable development company Motiva and the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra are launching a campaign to mobilize Finns to save energy in simple ways: turning off the shower while applying the shampoo, for example.
Although sustainable consumption may sometimes feel difficult, Sipilä has an encouraging message.
“Each of us can make a difference, and even small actions count. If you’re not sure where to start, consider for example eating one more vegetarian meal per week (tip: pumpkin is delicious right now), repairing one a piece of clothing instead of buying a new one, or switching the lights off when leaving a room. Sustainable habits are built little by little.”
The research Reflective and impulsive triggers of green buyinghas received funding fromFoundation for Economic Education and the Research Foundation of Lappeenranta University of Technology.The study is done in collaboration with Würzburg University, Germany.