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Green is the New White: How Virtue Motivates Green Product Purchase

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Abstract

It is important to understand the drivers of green consumption, because of growing concern for the health of the planet. In this paper, the assumption that a virtue-green product relationship exists is tested. The objective is to understand how product morality (versus that of the person using it) can influence the valuation of green products. Relying on virtue theory and positive spillover as conceptual bases, the research implicitly and explicitly tests and confirms green (versus conventional) product virtue. The results demonstrate that perceived green product virtue leads to positive emotions, which explain heightened purchase intentions. In line with the conceptualization, I show that the effect is moderated by the importance consumers place on their own morality (i.e., cultivating personal virtue). Importantly, explicitly framing green products as virtuous activates positive spillover (i.e., prosocial behavior) by consumers; when green products are branded with a virtue cue, they encourage consumers to be more virtuous. Beyond being perceived as better people, when consumers interact with green products they effectively engage in more moral acts, such as making donations. The results confirm the perception of green products as moral agents and provide marketers with insights into the marketing value of virtue cues in green product consumption.

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Notes

  1. Unlike green products, conventional products are those produced using items, ingredients, and/or methods that are not considered ethical, environmental or prosocial.

  2. Although other research supports a moral licensing perspective, where consumers initially behave morally and after compensate with immoral behavior (Blanken et al. 2015; Mazar and Zhong 2010), more recent literature (e.g., Juhl et al. 2017) suggests positive spillovers from green consumption to be more likely. Furthermore, Blanken et al. (2015) note in their meta-analysis that a) moral licensing effects are more likely to be found in published (vs. unpublished) papers, and b) that sample sizes used to determine the moral licensing effect are often small, making it difficult to draw conclusions regarding this effect.

  3. This is distinct from consuming green products because they contain a virtuous essence than can transfer to the consumer (Newman and Dhar 2014). In this research, we seek to examine the inherent nature of green products versus the inherent nature of the consumption act.

  4. The analysis considered the mean and ± 1 SD. The sample size for each group was: low moral character importance = 24, average moral character importance = 67, high moral character importance = 16.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Paola Antonetti (NEOMA Business School) for his help in reviewing the manuscript. The author is also indebted to the NEOMA Chaire Bio-économie for funding the data collection and to Thomas Szygula and the NEOMA Oikos Chapter for their help in conducting Study 4.

Funding

This study was funded by a research grant from a research chair at the corresponding author’ school.

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Correspondence to Nathalie Spielmann.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study when applicable. In online studies, participants were informed of their anonymity, did not reveal personal details, and cannot have their answers traced back to them. All respondents could opt out when they wished. In the field study, participants were not informed of their participation, but no personal information was collected and there was no forced participation.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Visuals and Vignettes Used for the Studies

Study 2: Face Cream

* Glycerin is an excellent ingredient in face creams because it has hydrating properties that work by bringing water in the skin to the surface. As glycerin is a humectant, it retains water without any problem and keeps skin smooth and hydrated.

Conventional Condition

This face cream is made using synthetic ingredients, notably glycerin*. The glycerin used in this cream was made using synthetic propylene.

figure a

Green Condition

This face cream is made using natural ingredients, notably glycerin. The glycerin used in this cream was made from glucose originating from cane sugar.

figure b

Study 3: Sunscreen

This brand of sunscreen will be launched in spring 2017. Here is some information about the product and its ingredients.

Conventional Condition

Lakmé sunscreen is made by blending synthetic ingredients such as oxybenzene and retinol palmate with aloe vera and other processed ingredients.

Green Condition

Lakmé sunscreen is made by blending natural ingredients such as minerals and zinc oxide with aloe vera and other organic ingredients.

Study 4: Coffee

figure c

Appendix 2: Measures

Product Virtue

“In your opinion, this product seems…” (1 = completely disagree, 9 = completely agree).

  • Honest

  • Virtuous

  • Fair

  • Righteous

Purchase Intentions

“What is the probability that you would buy this…” (nine-point scale).

  • Unlikely—very likely

  • Improbable—very probable

Positive Emotions

When you think about the product you were shown, how do you feel? (1 = not at all, 7 = very much).

  • Happy

  • Joyous

  • Calm

  • At peace

Moral Character

Complete the following sentence: “In general, I consider myself to be someone who…” (1 = is not representative of me, 7 = is very representative of me).

  • …Does not pay attention to the good or bad sides of things when making decisions (r)

  • …Thinks of ways to become a better person

  • …Does not consider the effects that his/her decisions can have on other people (r)

  • …Does not know why they behave in the manner that they do (r)

  • …Thinks of ways to become a more moral/virtuous person

  • …Takes decisions in the spirit of wanting to “do good”

  • …Is not concerned with morals (r)

  • …Is a moral/virtuous person

  • …Does not usually do the right thing (r)

  • …Is not an ethical person (r)

  • …Believes they are acting according to good principles

  • …Is not a moral/virtuous person (r)

  • …Is an ethical person

  • …Usually does the right thing

Product greenness manipulation check (as per Gershoff and Frels 2015, 1 = completely disagree, 9 = completely agree).

This ____ deserves to be labeled ‘environmentally friendly.’

Purchasing this ____ is a good environmental choice.

A person who cares about the environment would be likely to buy this ____.

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Spielmann, N. Green is the New White: How Virtue Motivates Green Product Purchase. J Bus Ethics 173, 759–776 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04493-6

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