The objective of this project is to investigate ways that consumers make inferences about green product quality. The investigators found that consumers tend to infer that green products are worse quality than traditional (non-green) alternatives. In short, this effect appears to result from consumers’ reliance upon a “zero-sum” heuristic, whereby they assume that companies have a fixed amount of manufacturing resources. Thus, resources devoted to “making the product green” come at the expense of making the product better performing.
Use and Applications
Professor Newman has discussed these studies in his core Master of Business Administration class, among colleagues, and in conjunction with a case on green products.
Additional data will be collected for the resubmission of the publication, and the investigators hope to continue research surrounding consumers’ views of green products.
Photo from Tobias von der Haar/flickr
Newman, G.E., M. Gorlin, and R. Dhar. 2014. When going “green” backfires: How firm intentions shape the evaluation of environmental product enhancements. Journal of Consumer Research.
Abstract: Many companies offer products with social benefits that are orthogonal to performance (e.g., green products). The present studies demonstrate that information about a company’s intentions in designing the product plays an import role in consumers’ evaluations. In particular, consumers are less likely to purchase a green product when they perceive that the company intentionally made the product better for the environment compared to when the same environmental benefit occurred as an unintended side effect. This result is explained by consumers’ lay theories about resource allocation: intended (vs. unintended) green enhancements lead consumers to assume that the company diverted resources away from product quality, which in turn drives a reduction in purchase interest. The present studies also identify an important boundary condition based on the type of enhancement and show that the basic intended (vs. unintended) effect generalizes to other types of perceived tradeoffs, such as healthfulness and taste.