Skip to main content

Third-Party Certification, Sponsorship, and Consumers’ Ecolabel Use

Abstract

While prior ecolabel research suggests that consumers’ trust of ecolabel sponsors is associated with their purchase of ecolabeled products, we know little about how third-party certification might relate to consumer purchases when trust varies. Drawing on cognitive theory and a stratified random sample of more than 1200 consumers, we assess how third-party certification relates to consumers’ use of ecolabels across different program sponsors. We find that consumers’ trust of government and environmental NGOs to provide credible environmental information encourages consumers’ use of ecolabels sponsored by these entities, and consumers do not differentiate between certified versus uncertified ecolabels in the presence of trust. By contrast, consumers’ distrust of private business to provide credible environmental information discourages their use of business association-sponsored ecolabels. However, these ecolabels may be able to overcome consumer distrust if their sponsors certify the ecolabels using third-party auditors. These findings are important to sponsors who wish develop ecolabels that are more credible to consumers, and thus encourage more widespread ecolabel use.

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

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The European Eco Flower is now known as the EU Ecolabel.

References

  1. Aertsens, J., Verbeke, W., Mandelaers, K., & Van Huylenbroeck, G. (2009). Personal determinants of organic food consumption: A review. British Food Journal, 111(10), 1140–1167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Agresti, A. (2010). Analysis of ordinal categorical data. New York: Wiley.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. Aguilar, F. X., & Vlosky, R. P. (2006). Consumer willingness to pay price premiums for environmentally certified wood products in the U.S. Forest Policy Economics, 9(8), 1100–1112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ajzen, I. (1985). From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behavior. In J. Kuhl & J. Beckmann (Eds.), Action control: From cognition to behavior (pp. 11–39). Berlin: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  5. Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1977). Attitude–behavior relations: A theoretical analysis and review of empirical research. Psychological Bulletin, 84(5), 888–891.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Arora, S., & Cason, T. N. (1995). An experiment in voluntary environmental regulation: Participation in EPA’s 33/50 program. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 28(3), 271–286.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 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 

  8. Bamberg, S., & Moser, G. (2007). Twenty years after Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera: A new meta-analysis of psycho-social determinants of pro-environmental behaviour. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27(1), 14–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bamberg, S., & Schmidt, S. (2003). Incentives, morality, or habit? Predicting student’s car use for university routes with the models of Ajzen, Schwartz, and Triandis. Environment and Behavior, 35(2), 264–285.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Banerjee, A., & Solomon, B. D. (2003). Eco-Labeling for energy efficiency and sustainability: A meta-evaluation of the US programs. Energy Policy, 31(2), 109–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Bjørner, T. B., Hansen, L. G., & Russell, C. S. (2004). Environmental labeling and consumers’ choice—An empirical analysis of the effect of the Nordic Swan. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 47(3), 411–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Black, J. S., Stern, P. C., & Elworth, J. T. (1985). Personal and contextual influences on household energy adaptations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 70(1), 3–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Bowen, F. (2014). After greenwashing: Symbolic corporate environmentalism and society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  14. Carlson, L., Grove, S. J., & Kangun, N. (1993). A content analysis of environmental advertising claims: A matrix method approach. Journal of Advertising, 22(3), 27–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cashore, B. (2002). Legitimacy and the privatization of environmental governance: How non-state market-driver (NSMD) governance systems gain rule-making authority. Governance, 15(4), 503–529.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Catska, P., & Corbett, J. (2014). Governance of eco-labels, expert opinion and media coverage. Journal of Business Ethics. doi:10.1007/s10551-014-2474-3.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Chang, S.-J., van Witteloostuijn, A., & Eden, L. (2010). From the editors: Common method variance in international business research. Journal of International Business Studies, 41(2), 178–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Darnall, N., & Aragón-Correa, J. A. (2014). Can ecolabels influence firms’ sustainability strategy and stakeholder behaviors? Organization & Environment, 27(4), 319–327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Darnall, N., & Carmin, J. (2005). Greener and cleaner? The signaling accuracy of U.S. voluntary environmental programs. Policy Sciences, 38(2–3), 71–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Darnall, N., Ponting, C., & Vazquez-Brust, D. A. (2012). Why consumers buy green. In D. Vazquez-Brust & J. Sarkis (Eds.), Green growth: Managing the transition to sustainable capitalism (pp. 287–308). New York, NY: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  21. Darnall, N., Potoski, M., & Prakash, A. (2010). Sponsorship matters: Assessing business participation in government-and industry-sponsored voluntary environmental programs. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 20(2), 283–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Darnall, N., & Sides, S. (2008). Assessing the performance of voluntary environmental programs: Does certification matter? Policy Studies Journal, 36(1), 95–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Delmas, M., & Keller, A. (2005). Free riding in voluntary environmental programs: The case of the U.S. EPA WasteWise program. Policy Sciences, 38(2–3), 91–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Delmas, M. A., Nairn-Birch, N., & Balzarova, M. (2013). Choosing the right eco-label for your product. MIT Sloan Management Review, 54(4), 10–12.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Dendler, L. (2014). Sustainable meta labeling: An effective measure to facilitate more sustainable consumption and production? Journal of Cleaner Production, 63, 74–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Dietz, F. J., & Vollebergh, R. H. J. (1999). Explaining instrument choice in environmental policies. In J. C. M. van den Bergh (Ed.), Handbook of environmental and resource economics (pp. 339–351). Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Doherty, E. D., Campbell, S., Hynes, D., & van Rensburg, T. M. (2013). Examining labelling effects within discrete choice experiments: An application to recreational site choice. Journal of Environmental Management, 125, 94–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Ecolabel Index. (2014). http://www.ecolabelindex.com. Accessed Nov 29, 2015.

  29. Ecolabel Index. (2016). All Ecolabels. http://www.ecolabelindex.com/ecolabels/. Accessed 6 April 2016.

  30. Eisend, M., & Küster, F. (2011). The effectiveness of publicity versus advertising: A meta-analytic investigation of its moderators. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 39(6), 906–921.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Ethier, G. R., Poe, G. L., Schultze, W. D., & Clark, J. (2000). A comparison of hypothetical phone and mail contingent valuation responses for green-pricing electricity programs. Land Economics, 76, 54–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Eurobarometer. (2013). Attitudes of Europeans towards Building the Single Market for Green Products. Flash Eurobarometer 367. http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_367_en.pdf. Accessed June 10, 2015.

  33. Eurobarometer. (2014). Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment, Special Eurobarometer 416. http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_416_en.pdf. Accessed June 10, 2015.

  34. Finch, D., Deephouse, D., & Varella, P. (2015). Examining an individual’s legitimacy judgment using the value-attitude system: The role of environmental and economic values and source credibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 127(2), 265–281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. New York, NY: The Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Gamper-Rabindran, S. (2006). Did the EPA’s voluntary industrial toxics program reduce plants’ emissions? A GIS analysis of distributional impacts and a by-media analysis of substitution. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 52(1), 391–410.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Hines, J. M., Hungerford, H. R., & Tomera, A. N. (1987). Analysis and synthesis of research on responsible environmental behaviour: A meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Education, 18(2), 1–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Huang, C. L. (1993). Simultaneous-equation model for estimating consumer risk perceptions, attitudes, and willingness to pay for residue-free produce. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 27(2), 377–396.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Huang, C. L., Kan, K., & Fu, T.-T. (1999). Consumer willingness to pay for food safety in Taiwan: A binary-ordinal probit model of analysis. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 33(1), 76–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Hussain, S. S. (2000). Green consumerism and ecolabelling: A strategic behavioural model. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 51(1), 77–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2010). Past events. http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/news_and_events.htm. February 13, 2010.

  42. Jackson, T. (2005). Motivating sustainable consumption: A review of evidence on consumer behaviour and behavioural change. London: Policy Studies Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Janssen, M., & Hamm, U. (2012). Product labelling in the market for organic food: Consumer preferences and willingness-to-pay for different organic certification logos. Food Quality and Preference, 25(1), 9–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Jiang, P., Jones, D. B., & Javie, S. (2008). How third-party certification programs relate to consumer trust in online transactions: An exploratory study. Psychology & Marketing, 25(9), 839–858.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Johnstone, N. (2007). Environmental policy and corporate behaviour. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  46. Kahneman, D., & Frederick, S. (2002). Representativeness revisited: Attribute substitution in intuitive judgment. In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin, & D. Kahneman (Eds.), Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment (pp. 49–81). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  47. Kennedy, P. (2003). A guide to econometrics (5th ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Laroche, M., Bergeron, J., & Barbaro-Forleo, G. (2001). Targeting consumers who are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 18(6), 503–520.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Lee, K. (2008). Opportunities for green marketing: Young consumers. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 26(6), 573–586.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Loureiro, M. L., McCluskey, J. J., & Mittelhammer, R. C. (2001). Assessing consumer preferences for organic, eco-labeled, and regular apples. Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 26(2), 404–416.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Menard, S. (2002). Applied logistic regression analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  52. Moisander, J. (2007). Motivational complexity of green consumerism. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 31(4), 404–409.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Noblet, C. L., Teisl, M. F., & Rubin, J. (2006). Factors affecting consumer assessment of eco-labeled vehicles. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 11(6), 422–431.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Nunnally, J. C. (1978). Psychometric theory (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Nuttavuthisit, K., & Thøgersen, J. (2015). The importance of consumer trust for the emergence of a market for green products: The case of organic food. Journal of Business Ethics. doi:10.1007/s10551-015-2690-5

  56. O’Brien, K. A., & Teisl, M. F. (2004). Eco-information and its effect on consumer values for environmentally certified forest products. Journal of Forest Economics, 10(2), 75–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. O’Rourke, D. (2012). Shopping for good. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Oates, C., McDonald, S., Alevizou, P., Hwang, K., Young, W., & McMorland, L. (2008). Marketing sustainability: Use of information sources and degrees of voluntary simplicity. Journal of Marketing Communications, 14(5), 351–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Organic Trade Association. (2015). http://ota.com/sites/default/files/indexed_files/StateOfOrganicIndustry_0.pdf. Accessed June 16, 2015.

  60. Pavlou, P., & Fygenson, M. (2006). Understanding and predicting electronic commerce adoption. An extension of TPB. MIS Quarterly, 30(1), 115–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Pedersen, E. R., & Neergaard, P. (2006). Caveat emptor—Let the buyer beware! Environmental labelling and the limitations of ‘green’ consumerism. Business Strategy and the Environment, 15(1), 15–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Lee, J. Y., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 879–903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Podsakoff, P. M., & Organ, D. W. (1986). Self-reports in organizational research. Journal of Management, 12(4), 531–544.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Pornpitakpan, C. (2004). The persuasiveness of source credibility: A critical review of five decades’ evidence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34(2), 243–281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Potoski, M., & Prakash, A. (2005). Covenants with weak swords: ISO 14001 and facilities’ environmental performance. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 24(4), 745–769.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Scammon, D. L., & Mayer, R. N. (1995). Agency review of environmental marketing claims: Case-by-case decomposition of the issues. Journal of Advertising, 24(2), 33–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Schepers, D. H. (2010). Challenges to legitimacy at the Forest Stewardship Council. Journal of Business Ethics, 92(2), 279–290.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Shen, J., & Saijo, T. (2009). Does an energy efficiency label alter consumers’ purchasing decisions? A latent class approach based on a stated choice experiment in Shanghai. Journal of Environmental Management, 90(11), 3561–3573.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Sheppard, B. H., Hartwick, J., & Warshaw, P. R. (1988). The theory of reasoned action: A meta-analysis of past research with recommendations for modifications and future research. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(3), 325–334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Soil Association UK. (2015). http://www.soilassociation.org/news/newsstory/articleid/7805/organic-market-shows-improved-growth-amidst-tumbling-food-prices. Accessed 12/01/2015.

  71. Sparks, B. A., Perkins, H. E., & Buckley, R. (2013). Online travel reviews as persuasive communication: The effects of content type, source, and certification logos on consumer behavior. Tourism Management, 39, 1–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Starobin, S., & Weinthal, E. (2010). The search for credible information in social and environmental global governance: the kosher label. Business and Politics, 12(3), 1–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Stern, P. C. (2000). Towards a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 407–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Suchman, M. C. (1995). Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 571–610.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Tarkiainen, A., & Sundqvist, S. (2005). Subjective norms, attitudes and intentions of Finnish consumers in buying organic food. British Food Journal, 107(11), 808–822.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Testa, F., Iraldo, F., Frey, M., & Daddi, T. (2012). What Factors influence the uptake of GPP (green public procurement) practices? New evidence from an Italian survey. Ecological Economics, 82, 88–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Testa, F., Iraldo, F., Vaccari, A., & Ferrari, E. (2015). Why eco-labels can be effective marketing tools: Evidence from a study on Italian consumers. Business Strategy and the Environment, 24(4), 252–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Thøgersen, J., Haugaard, P., & Olesen, A. (2010). Understanding consumer responses to ecolabels. European Journal of Marketing, 44(11/12), 1787–1810.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Tost, L. P. (2011). An integrative model of legitimacy judgments. Academy of Management Review, 36(4), 686–710.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Valliant, M. (2014). Top 10 reasons why organic food is more expensive. HellaWella. http://www.hellawella.com/top-10-reasons-organic-food-is-so-expensive/4727. Accessed February 2, 2016.

  81. Van Dam, Y. K., & De Jonge, J. (2015). The positive side of negative labelling. Journal of Consumer Policy, 38(1), 19–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Vining, J., & Ebreo, A. (1991). Are you thinking what I think you are: A study of actual and estimated goal priorities and decision preferences of resource managers, environmentalists and the public. Society and Natural Resources, 4(2), 177–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Vining, J., & Ebreo, A. (1992). Predicting recycling behaviour from global and specific environmental attitudes and changes in recycling opportunities. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22(20), 1580–1607.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors thank the Economic and Social Research Council and Social Science Research Council for funding a portion of this research.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nicole Darnall.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Darnall, N., Ji, H. & Vázquez-Brust, D.A. Third-Party Certification, Sponsorship, and Consumers’ Ecolabel Use. J Bus Ethics 150, 953–969 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3138-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Ecolabel
  • Environmental label
  • Ecolabel sponsor
  • Consumer perceptions
  • Ecolabel credibility
  • Third-party certification
  • Verification