The Public Health Implications of Consumers' Environmental Concern and Their Willingness to Pay for an Eco-Friendly Product

Article excerpt

Environmental concern has been an important topic for more than 40 years and has recently become even more critical with today's concerns about creating a sustainable and healthy environment. This research examines factors affecting an individual's willingness to pay more for an environmentally friendly product. Our results show that willingness to pay more differs across demographic groups. We also find that individuals who rate concern for waste as highly important are willing to spend more money on an eco-friendly product. Consequently, our findings provide insight into the development of appropriate educational strategies for different consumer groups to encourage consumers to purchase eco-friendly products, with a goal of creating a healthier environment for current and future generations.

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The challenge of healthier communities begins with environmental concern and collective adoption of eco-friendly behaviors, because the choices consumers make with regard to the environment influence the health and quality of life for both current and future generations. In general terms, environmental concern is a "concept that can refer to feelings [consumers have] about many different green issues" (Zimmer, Stafford, and Stafford 1994, p. 64). The topic became an important one in 1962 when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published and has recently become even more critical with today's concerns about creating a sustainable and healthy environment. Trends show a remarkable increase in consumer worry about environmental problems (e.g., Gallup Poll 2009) and continued support for alternative forms of energy generation (Pew 2010) and other sustainable initiatives. Interest in environmental issues has also triggered rapid growth and enrollment in environmental courses offered in colleges and universities (Fuller 2010). In the corporate world, environmentalism has moved to the boardroom (Hanas 2007), while at the lay level, magazines such as Popular Mechanics feature articles related to global warming (http://www.popularmechanics.com 2010). In addition, a recent blog points out that popular media incorporate environmental messages into their programming: "The powers that be at NBC Universal started going green and making the environment a priority, using a tactic called 'behavior placement' to weave subtle eco-friendly messages into the scripts of some of the network's most popular daytime and prime time programs" (http://www.environment.about.com 2010).

Although the environmental movement can be traced back to the nineteenth century, the modern iteration of environmental concern as an issue of critical interest began about four decades ago. Most recently, this concern has reappeared in the academic, scientific and popular press in terms of issues related to sustainability and renewable resources (e.g., Gallup 2009; Pew 2009, 2010). For example, a major initiative in the National Science Foundation's proposed 2011 budget is expanded support for climate research activities, designed to address challenges in sustainability, energy research and education (http://www.nsf.gov 2010). The latest approach to understanding and researching sustainability and environmental concepts spans several disciplines including marketing, public policy and public health, among others.

In particular, sustainability is recognized as a major public health issue of the twenty-first century (American Public Health Association 2007). Health concerns are a primary component of overall environmental concern because physical surroundings (air quality, water protection and even the availability of health care alternatives) directly affect human survival and quality of life (Zimmer, Stafford, and Stafford 1994), and individuals who practice environmental behaviors will promote healthier communities, via improved quality of air, water and physical health (Patz and Olson 2006). Consequently, understanding environmental concern among consumers can have an important influence on public health. …