Ethical shopping: What stops you buying environmental and ethical products? ISC Affiliated Researcher A/Prof Martin Grimmer on ABC News
By Carol Raabus
Do you buy environmentally friendly products? If not, what stops you?
Research at the University of Tasmania is looking into why many people say they want to buy environmental products but do not follow through.
Associate Professor Martin Grimmer from the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics said his main interest was looking at why people do things the way they do.
“Why is it, for example, that we lead lifestyles that are well beyond our actual means?” Professor Grimmer said.
“It’s fascinating why an individual or why a household would consume beyond what they can actually afford.”
The 30/3 problem
Professor Grimmer said on average 30 per cent of Australian consumers say they will buy ethical or environmental products.
However, there appears to be a gap between words and actions.
“Ethical products generally only produce about a 3 per cent market share,” Professor Grimmer said.
“There’s a drop between what people say they will do and what they actually do.”
Make a plan
Professor Grimmer said having an intention to do something was not as effective as having a plan to do it.
“An intention is usually a reasonably good indication of behaviour but it’s not the same as forming a plan,” he said.
“If I say I’m going to buy an environmental product, that’s an intention, but if I then say ‘next time I go shopping I’m going to buy dolphin-friendly tuna’, that’s a plan.
“Plans are much more likely to predict behaviour.”
Price an ‘ethical tipping point’
For many people, price plays a big role in whether they buy a product or not.
Professor Grimmer said there was an “ethical tipping point” when a product went from being seen as affordable and justifiable to not.
“You find that if the product is a relatively low price product, overwhelmingly they will choose the company that is more environmentally responsible,” he said.
“But then when you make it a high price, people will switch around.”
Perceived behaviour control
Environmental and ethical issues can often seem too big for a single person to make a difference.
Professor Grimmer said if people thought their choices would make a difference, they were more likely to follow through.
This perceived control also plays into thinking that making more environmental and ethical choices in consumption means making big lifestyle changes.
“Part of the problem is that people think that to act environmentally responsibly is a big change in their behaviour,” Professor Grimmer said.
“You don’t actually have to make a big change; a small change will make a difference.
“If every Australian household [reduced their carbon footprint by half a per cent] that would be an emission reduction of about 1.9 million metric tonnes of carbon which is all the carbon produced by about 115,000 Australians.”
Better labelling for better choices
Professor Grimmer said despite the factors that get in the way, there was a commercial benefit for businesses to be seen as environmentally friendly.
“There is a significant advantage to being seen as being environmentally friendly,” he said.
“The issue is how do you let people know that?”
Professor Grimmer said one way was to be upfront and clear with labelling on products so people could judge the environmental and ethical impact.
“How has it been sourced? If it’s sourced locally it’s more likely to be environmentally positive,” he said.
“They have to make it clear as well if it’s something like fair trade.”