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Conference Papers Year : 2013

The Role of Centrality of Green Attributes in Green Product Evaluation

Judy Frels
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Concern about the limited natural resources of the planet and an interest in careful stewardship of those resources continue to influence the decisions of both firms and consumers. Firms are building environmentally friendly supply chains, including recycled material in their products, and developing manufacturing methods that avoid polluting their surrounding environments. Consumers' reactions to firms' investments have been mixed. While some consumers espouse enthusiasm for more environmentally-friendly offerings, a recent Gallup poll suggests that many stop short of actually purchasing such products (Dunlap 2010). Customers have been found to suffer from "green fatigue" (Platt and Retallack 2009), to be suspicious of "green washing" (, and to be unwilling to pay extra for environmentally-conscious products (Bhattacharya and Sen 2004). However, a more fundamental question underlies these reactions: What makes a consumer perceive a product as green or not green to start with? Before a product's environmental friendliness can have any influence on a consumer's purchase decision, the consumer must see the product as green - or not. Consider a consumer looking at two brands of paper towels in a supermarket. The information provided indicates that the environmental savings achieved by including recycled material in both brands is exactly the same, but one brand includes recycled materials in the packaging of the towels, while one includes recycled materials in the towels themselves. Do consumers perceive these two products as equally green? Or consider two laptop computers, one with an environmentally friendly motherboard and the other with an environmental friendly power cord. The use of recycled materials in the two products saves the same amount of plastic material from entering landfills, but do consumers perceive a green peripheral element (the power cord) as contributing as much "greenness" to a product as a green component that is more essential to the product (the motherboard)? In this research, we look at factors that influence a consumer's perception of the environmental friendliness or greenness of a product. We explore this from the perspective of centrality theory (Sloman, Love, and Ahn 1998) which states that certain features of a product are more central - more essential, more integral - to defining what a product (or natural object) is and to what category it belongs. One facet of centrality involves high- versus low-level construals (Trope, Liberman and Wakslak 2007) and so we examine the role construal plays in the consumer's evaluation process and the consumer's categorization of a product as green or not green. We also look at how different elements of a product are presented to the consumer (holistically or separately) and also examine where in the supply chain the "greenness" of a product occurs. We test the effect of these variables across multiple experiments that span four different product categories - mattresses, paper towels, laptop computers, and washing machines. The results of our four studies suggest that products with identical reductions in their environmental impact may have their environmental friendliness evaluated very differently by consumers depending on the centrality or non-centrality of the product features that are green. We find that differences in green perceptions between products with central or peripheral green attributes are attenuated when a high-level or distant construal is triggered. The implications of this for public policy makers and firms are potentially significant. From a public policy perspective, our results suggest that consumers' evaluation process of green claims may be influenced by factors which are not related to green outcomes. In our study, the green claims were very specific and clearly identical, yet the "peripheralness" or centrality of the green feature had a significant effect on the consumers' assessment of greenness. This suggests that consumers' ability to assess environmental impact is influenced by factors not related to environment outcomes. From the perspective of firms, they may wish to consider carefully their green investments and their communication of these efforts. If the same environmental impact can be achieved through both a central feature and a non-central feature, our findings suggest that for positive consumer evaluations, the investment is best made in the central feature. If that is not possible, then encouraging a more abstract construal may alter the consumer's processing and achieve positive results from an investment in a peripheral feature.
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hal-00841455 , version 1 (04-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00841455 , version 1


Judy Frels. The Role of Centrality of Green Attributes in Green Product Evaluation. American Marketing Association Marketing and Public Policy Conference, 2013, United States. pp.10. ⟨hal-00841455⟩


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