The Reporter
Issue 495, 26 January 2004
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Save money or save the planet? How green shoppers make purchasing choices

A major new research project led by the school of the environment aims to find out how and why people choose greener lifestyles. The practical aim is to improve government policy on promoting green consumption and help companies to market environmental products by determining how people overcome dilemmas in their decision making.

The research will question 100 people in ‘police-style interviews’ and draw up a ‘cognitive map’ of the thinking that led to them to buy major items such as cars, washing machines and fridges.

Dr William Young said: “Relatively little is known about how green consumers make day-to-day decisions about green products. Governments and marketers introduce new policies and carry out marketing campaigns and then do polls, but often wonder why the result doesn’t match what they hoped would happen.”

He said: “If they want to buy ethically-traded coffee they may have to drive some way to get it and that would be bad for the environment. At the same time they may also want to support their local retailer but find they only stock products from producers they consider unethical.”

Researchers will go to shopping centres, libraries, gyms, health food shops and other locations in Leeds and Sheffield.
Dr Young said: “DEFRA and DTI have said that policy interventions will not be fully effective unless we understand how consumers behave. Because of complexity and conflicting factors in consumer behaviour, promoting green consumption becomes futile.”

The research team plans to interview three categories of consumers: so-called ‘downshifters’ – those who purge themselves of unnecessary possessions and aim to live a cleaner, simpler life; green consumers and the general public, on their decisions to buy or not green products.

The practical implications of the study will be shared through a series of workshops for public sector officers, private sector marketers, and policy makers. The two-year project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Sustainable Technology Programme and will run until November 2005.

 
 
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