Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Consumer Perceptions of Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Terms

Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Consumer Perceptions of Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Terms

Article excerpt

Increasingly, consumer products are advertised by promoting their "green" or environmentally friendly attributes and characteristics to appeal to a larger consumer base or to gain a premium for the product. As noted by Truffer, Markard, and Wustenhagen (2001), this can be thought of as eco-labeling. Numerous terms fall within this eco-labeling context, but two, "eco-friendly" and "sustainable," are applied to a wide variety of products and are at the forefront of the green movement. As noted by Merriam-Webster (2013), the term "eco-friendly" originated in 1989 while "sustainable" has been around since 1727. Further, Greenbiz (2009) noted that 1,570 products claiming to be sustainable, eco-friendly, or "environmentally friendly" were launched in 2009, tripling the number launched three years earlier. Given the terms' longevity and increasing usage in the marketplace to inform and influence consumer decision-making, there is a growing need to understand how consumers perceive these terms.

Merriam-Webster (2013, web page] defines eco-friendly as "not environmentally harmful" and sustainable as "involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources." Perhaps from a more consumer-oriented perspective, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (2014, web page) defines the term eco-friendly as "a loose term often used in marketing to inform consumers about an attribute of a product or service that has an environmental benefit. This term does not necessarily indicate all attributes of a product or service are environmentally benign." The association defines the term sustainable as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." Thus, definitions of eco-friendly and sustainable vary and, unlike for organic labeling, there are no federal or state certifications to align definitions across products.

Consequently, terms such as eco-friendly and sustainable, hereafter referred to as EFS, have the potential to suffer from "greenwashing." As defined by EnviroMedia Social Marketing (2013, web page), "greenwashing is when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be 'green' through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact." EnviroMedia Social Marketing (2013) goes on to note that greenwashing is a problem because it can cause confusion among consumers (e.g., they purchase a product that is perceived to be something it is not). Through such misinformation and false claims, consumers may have inaccurate information about terms associated with environmentally friendly products and may in some cases come to believe that environmental labeling is nothing more than a sales gimmick.

In regard to environmental labeling, the studies completed so far have focused mostly on understanding perceptions of the terms "organic" and "local"; only a few have examined EFS terms even though their use is widespread. Of the studies that have examined preferences and/or willingness to pay for EFS labels (Thompson and Kidwell 1998, Blend and Van Ravenswaay 1999, Wessels, Johnson, and Holger 1999, Moon et al. 2002, Mueller and Remaud 2010, Sirieix and Remaud 2010, Han, Hsu, and Lee 2009, Jhawar et al. 2012, Marette, Messéan, and Millet 2012), none investigated the role of consumers' perceptions of the terms in choice decision-making. However, as noted by Lusk et al. (2004), Pope and Jones (1990), and Cameron and Englin (1997), the way in which individuals perceive or intrinsically define concepts such as EFS may influence their choices.

Despite the rising use of EFS terms on product labels, little is known about the underlying perceptions and definitions associated with them. As with the terms local and organic (Ipsos Reid 2006, Campbell, Mhlanga, and Lesschaeve 2013), we hypothesize that consumers' perceptions and associations regarding EFS vary and can be both positive and negative (H1). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.