Marketing’s Impact on Eco-product Purchases

Research led by University of Kentucky faculty member Aaron Garvey reveals that careful marketing can impact consumer eco-product purchasing habits.

In their soon-to-be published article in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Garvey, assistant professor of marketing in the Gatton College of Business and Economics, and Penn State University’s Lisa Bolton, said that putting eco-products in the hands of consumers represents a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, it encourages environmentally responsible behavior among consumers already prone to engage in it, while at the same time decreasing environmentally responsible behavior among consumers who are already less environmentally conscious. 

The research by Garvey and Bolton, professor of marketing and Mary Jean Smeal Research Fellow at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, suggests that marketing strategies can help encourage consumers who aren’t inclined to make environmentally responsible purchases to go green.

“Consumers who embrace green living typically have established eco-friendly purchasing habits,” Garvey said. “These consumers see an initial eco-product purchase as a reminder of their commitment to the environment, which subsequently leads to even more environmentally supportive purchases.”

However, Garvey continued, “For those who aren’t typically inclined to go green, purchase of an eco-product leads these less environmentally invested consumers to avoid further eco-product purchases. They feel they’ve done their good deed and don’t seek out environmentally friendly products in their next immediate purchases.”

Bolton added, “Marketing materials for one company’s eco-printing products tell consumers ‘Congratulations! Your purchase has … contributed to reducing the burden on the environment.’ For consumers who are less environmentally conscious, that message can send the message that they have done their part, or met a goal. So, their next purchases probably won’t be environmentally friendly.”

The research reveals that marketers can intervene with messages to mitigate detrimental licensing among consumers who are less environmentally conscious. More effective messaging would emphasize that protecting the environment requires a series of environmentally conscious choices. That messaging could be both at the point of sale and in the product packaging.

“One company makes a claim that ‘For more than 25 years, we’ve been making a difference together’ which implies consistency in environmental responsibility,’” Bolton said.

Garvey stated, “While in-store displays and other point-of-sale interventions are one possible approach to communicating such messaging, product packaging may be a more effective medium for reminding consumers of the need to be consistent in their environmental behavior.”

The title of Garvey and Bolton’s research paper is “Eco-Product Choice Cuts Both Ways: How Pro-Environmental Licensing versus Reinforcement is Contingent upon Environmental Consciousness.”