Isolated Environmental Cues and Product Efficacy Penalties: The Color Green and Eco-labels

Abstract

The current work examines how cues traditionally used to signal environmental friendliness, specifically the color green and eco-labels, and influence product efficacy perceptions and subsequent purchase intentions. Across three experiments, we find that environmental cues used in isolation (i.e., green color without an environmental label or an environmental label without green color) reduce perceptions of product efficacy. We argue that this efficacy discounting effect occurs because the isolated use of an environmental cue introduces category ambiguity by activating competing functionality and environmentally friendly schemas during evaluation. We discuss the implications of our findings for research on environmental consumption as well as offer insight into the effective use of environmental cues on product packaging.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Atkinson, L., & Rosenthal, S. (2014). Signaling the green sell: the influence of eco-label source, argument specificity, and product involvement on consumer trust. Journal of Advertising, 43(1), 33–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Auger, P., Burke, P., Devinney, T. M., & Louviere, J. J. (2003). What will consumers pay for social product features? Journal of Business Ethics, 42(3), 281–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Auger, P., & Devinney, T. M. (2007). Do what consumers say matter? The misalignment of preferences with unconstrained ethical intentions. Journal of Business Ethics, 76(4), 361–383.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bradu, C., Orquin, J. L., & Thøgersen, J. (2014). The mediated influence of a traceability label on consumer’s willingness to buy the labelled product. Journal of Business Ethics, 124(2), 283–295.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Castaldo, S., Perrini, F., Misani, N., & Tencati, A. (2009). The missing link between corporate social responsibility and consumer trust: The case of fair trade products. Journal of Business Ethics, 84(1), 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chang, C. (2011). Feeling ambivalent about going green. Journal of Advertising, 40(4), 19–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Chang, T. Z., & Wildt, A. R. (1994). Price, product information, and purchase intention: An empirical study. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 22(1), 16–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Chernev, A., & Carpenter, G. S. (2001). The role of market efficiency intuitions in consumer choice: A case of compensatory inferences. Journal of Marketing Research, 38(3), 349–361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Clarke, T., & Costall, A. (2008). The emotional connotations of color: A qualitative investigation. Color Research & Application, 33(5), 406–410.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. De Pelsmacker, P., Driesen, L., & Rayp, G. (2005). Do consumers care about ethics? Willingness to pay for fair-trade coffee. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 39(2), 363–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Delmas, M. A., & Cuerel Burbano, V. (2011). The drivers of greenwashing. California Management Review, 54(1), 64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Devinney, T. M., Auger, P., & Eckhardt, G. M. (2010). The myth of the ethical consumer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. D’Souza, C., Taghian, M., & Lamb, P. (2006). An empirical study on the influence of environmental labels on consumers. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 11(2), 162–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Ehrich, K. R., & Irwin, J. R. (2005). Willful ignorance in the request for product attribute information. Journal of Marketing Research, 42(3), 266–277.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Elliot, A. J., & Maier, M. A. (2007). Color and psychological functioning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(5), 250–254.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Elliot, A. J., & Maier, M. A. (2014). Color psychology: Effects of perceiving color on psychological functioning in humans. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 95–120.  

  17. Franklin, D. (2008). Just good business: A special report on corporate social responsibility. Economist Newspaper.

  18. Garvin, D. A. (1984). What does product quality really mean. Sloan Management Review, 26(1), 25–43.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Gershoff, A. D., & Frels, J. K. (2015). What makes it green? The role of centrality of green attributes in evaluations of the greenness of products. Journal of Marketing Research, 79(1), 97–110.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Gregan-Paxton, J., Hoeffler, S., & Zhao, M. (2005). When categorization is ambiguous: Factors that facilitate the use of a multiple category inference strategy. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 15(2), 127–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., & Van den Bergh, B. (2010). Going green to be seen: status, reputation, and conspicuous conservation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(3), 392.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Haws, K. L., Winterich, K. P., & Naylor, R. W. (2014). Seeing the world through GREEN-tinted glasses: Green consumption values and responses to environmentally friendly products. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24(3), 336–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hayes, A. F. (2008). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Herr, P. M. (1989). Priming price: Prior knowledge and context effects. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 67–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hopkins, M. S. (2009). What the ‘green’ consumer wants. MIT Sloan Management Review, 50(4), 87–89.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Irwin, J. R., & Naylor, R. W. (2009). Ethical decisions and response mode compatibility: Weighting of ethical attributes in consideration sets formed by excluding versus including product alternatives. Journal of Marketing Research, 46(2), 234–246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Kaya, N., & Epps, H. H. (2004). Relationship between color and emotion: A study of college students. College Student Journal, 38(3), 396.

  28. Labrecque, L. I., Patrick, V. M., & Milne, G. R. (2013). The marketers’ prismatic palette: A review of color research and future directions. Psychology & Marketing, 30(2), 187–202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Laufer, W. S. (2003). Social accountability and corporate greenwashing. Journal of Business Ethics, 43(3), 253–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lichtenfeld, S., Elliot, A. J., Maier, M. A., & Pekrun, R. (2012). Fertile green: green facilitates creative performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(6), 784–797.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Lin, Y. C., & Chang, C. C. A. (2012). Double standard: The role of environmental consciousness in green product usage. Journal of Marketing, 76(5), 125–134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Loken, B., Barsalou, L. W., & Joiner, C. (2008). Categorization theory and research in consumer psychology. In C. P. Haugtvedt, F. Kardes, & P. M. Herr (Eds.), Handbook of Consumer Psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

  33. Luchs, M. G., Brower, J., & Chitturi, R. (2012). Product choice and the importance of aesthetic design given the emotion-laden trade-off between sustainability and functional performance. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 29(6), 903–916.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Luchs, M. G., Naylor, R. W., Irwin, J. R., & Raghunathan, R. (2010). The sustainability liability: Potential negative effects of ethicality on product preference. Journal of Marketing, 74(5), 18–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Macrae, C. N., Bodenhausen, G. V., & Milne, A. B. (1995). The dissection of selection in person perception: Inhibitory processes in social stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(3), 397.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Mahé, T. (2010). Are stated preferences confirmed by purchasing behaviours? The case of fair trade-certified Bananas in Switzerland. Journal of Business Ethics, 92(2), 301–315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Mandler, G. (1982). The structure of value: Accounting for taste. In M. S. Clark & S. T. Fiske (Eds.), Affect and Cognition (pp. 3–36). The 17th Annual Carnegie Symposium.

  38. Mehta, R., & Zhu, R. J. (2009). Blue or red? Exploring the effect of color on cognitive task performance. Science, 323, 1226–1229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Meyers-Levy, J., & Tybout, A. M. (1989). Schema congruity as a basis for product evaluation. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 39–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Moore, M., & Carpenter, J. M. (2008). Intergenerational perceptions of market cues among US apparel consumers. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 12(3), 323–337.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Moreau, C. P., Markman, A. B., & Lehmann, D. R. (2001). “What is it?” Categorization flexibility and consumers’ responses to really new products. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(4), 489–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Murphy, G. L., & Ross, B. H. (1994). Predictions from uncertain categorizations. Cognitive Psychology, 27(2), 148–193.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Murphy, G. L., & Ross, B. H. (1999). Induction with cross-classified categories. Memory & Cognition, 27(6), 1024–1041.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Naz, K., & Epps, H. (2004). Relationship between color and emotion: A study of college students. College Student Journal, 38(3), 396–405.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Newman, G. E., Gorlin, M., & Dhar, R. (2014). When going green backfires: How firm intentions shape the evaluation of socially beneficial product enhancements. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(3), 823–839.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Nielsen (2011). Sustainable efforts & environmental concerns around the world: A Nielsen report. Retrieved August, from www.nielsen.com.

  47. Noseworthy, T. J., Di Muro, F., & Murray, K. B. (2014). The role of arousal in congruity-based product evaluation. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(4), 1108–1126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Noseworthy, T. J., & Goode, M. R. (2011). Contrasting rule-based and similarity-based category learning: The effects of mood and prior knowledge on ambiguous categorization. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(3), 362–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Noseworthy, T. J., & Trudel, R. (2011). Looks interesting but what does it do? Evaluation of incongruent product form depends on positioning. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(6), 1008–1019.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Noseworthy, T. J., Wang, J., & Islam, T. (2012). How context shapes category inferences and attribute preference for new ambiguous products. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(4), 529–554.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Peattie, Ken. (2010). Green consumption: Behavior and norms. Annual Reviews of Environment and Resources, 35, 195–228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Rosch, E. (1978). Principles of categorization. In E. Rosch & B. B. Lloyd (Eds.), Cognition and categorization. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

  53. Ross, B. H., & Murphy, G. L. (1996). Category-based predictions: Influence of uncertainty and feature associations. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 22(3), 736.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Skarmeas, D., & Leonidou, C. N. (2013). When consumers doubt, watch out! The role of CSR skepticism. Journal of Business Research, 66(10), 1831–1838.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Stayman, D. M., Alden, D. L., & Smith, K. H. (1992). Some effects of schematic processing on consumer expectations and disconfirmation judgments. Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 240–255.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Stefan, A., & Paul, L. (2008). Does it pay to be green? A systematic overview.The. Academy of Management Perspectives, 22(4), 45–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Teisl, M. F., Rubin, J., & Noblet, C. L. (2008). Non-dirty dancing? Interactions between eco-labels and consumers. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(2), 140–159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. TerraChoice (2010). The sins of greenwashing home and family edition: A report on environmental claims made in the North American consumer market. Retrieved November 14, 2014, from www.sinsofgreenwashing.org.

  59. Trudel, R., & Cotte, J. (2009). Does it pay to be good. MIT Sloan Management Review, 50(2), 61–68.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Zeithaml, V. A. (1988). Consumer perceptions of price, quality, and value: A means-end model and synthesis of evidence. Journal of Marketing, 52, 2–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Zhao, X., Lynch, J. G., & Chen, Q. (2010). Reconsidering Baron and Kenny: Myths and truths about mediation analysis. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 197–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to the section editor and anonymous reviewers for their comments through the review process. We thank Paul Dion for his assistance with data collection. We also gratefully acknowledge the David Sobey Centre for Innovation in Retail and Services at the Sobey School of Business for their financial support.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ethan Pancer.

Appendices

Appendix 1—Study 1 Product Stimuli

Appendix 2—Study 2 Product Stimuli

Appendix 3—Study 3 Product Stimuli

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pancer, E., McShane, L. & Noseworthy, T.J. Isolated Environmental Cues and Product Efficacy Penalties: The Color Green and Eco-labels. J Bus Ethics 143, 159–177 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2764-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Color green
  • Eco-labels
  • Environmental cues
  • Product packaging perceptions
  • Product efficacy
  • Categorization
  • Category ambiguity
  • Schema incongruity