Understanding Green Purchase Behavior: College Students and Socialization Agents

Article excerpt

Taking the perspective of consumer socialization theory, this study examined the influences of different socialization agents on consumers' purchases of green products. A total of 224 surveys were distributed to students enrolled in a business-related course at a major university in the northeastern United States. The objectives were twofold. The first was to determine the extent to which family communication affected the influence of parents on participants' green purchase behaviors. The second was to assess, through application of the theory of consumer socialization, the impact of socialization agents on green purchases. Findings showed that students reported more parental influence when their parents communicated more frequently with them regarding specific green behaviors such as buying green products and recycling. The findings also supported the theory of consumer socialization in understanding green purchase behaviors. The three socialization agents identified as influencing such behaviors were family/parents, school, and peers.

A growing number of consumers in the United States are becoming more environmentally responsible in their lifestyles, including consumption behaviors. According to a recent survey on consumer auto purchases, almost 20% of respondents who reported that they had bought a new car or truck in the previous 6 months indicated that they had considered a green vehicle or had actually bought a vehicle they believed to be more green (Connelly, 2008). With lifestyle changes come different buying behaviors, including purchasing goods and services that help reduce negative effects on the environment. Lee (2009) defined green purchasing behavior as consumption of products that are beneficial to the environment, recyclable or conservable, and responsive to ecological concerns. Examples of goods and services that are biodegradable are household cleaning products, energy-efficient light bulbs, organic food, apparel products manufactured in an environmentally sound manner, and public transportation (as opposed to driving a car).

Green purchase behavior is complex because consumers' motivations to engage in this behavior can be diverse, as suggested by Yan and Chang (2008). Although many consumers report concerns for the environment and future generations as the major reasons for their involvement in green purchases, they also may be motivated by potential economic benefits such as receiving refunds when recycling glass bottles or spending less on gas through the purchase of a hybrid car. Although green consumption may result in financial gain over the long run, green products are often priced higher than traditional, common products that have been available in the marketplace for years. Consumers have to weigh the pros (e.g., being environmentally friendly, gaining economic benefits) and cons (e.g., higher prices) before buying green products. The complex characteristics of this emerging phenomenon have drawn attention from consumer researchers seeking to better understand green purchasing behavior.

Research on green consumerism, sustainable consumption, and environmentally responsible behavior has been conducted among different consumer groups in different countries. Pepper, Jackson, and Uzzell (2009) took a motivational approach to study how individual values (e.g., materialism vs. prosocial values) shape socially conscious consumer behavior, and other researchers have investigated the roles of demographic characteristics and psychographic variables (e.g., consumer knowledge and environmental concern) in predicting environmentally responsible behavior, including green purchases (Lee, 2009; Mostafa, 2007). In addition, social influence has been acknowledged as an antecedent of sustainable consumption (Briceno & Stagi, 2006; Murnane, 2008). Little empirical research has specifically examined how various socialization agents exert influence on green purchase behavior.

The influence of socialization agents (e. …