How Environmentalism is Influencing Purchasing

The Socially Responsible Purchase and Disposal (SRPD) scale measures how consumers think about green purchases and what influences purchasing choices.

Depending on what research you read, analysts will tell you that environmentalism is a trend or unimportant to consumer decisions. However, the sheer number of big businesses attempting to greenwash their brands in the past few years would suggest that it’s more than a fad or an expensive alternative. A recent report, which surveyed 1,000 US consumers, follows on the heels of the recent UN Climate Action Summit and simultaneous Global Climate Strikes, found that the importance and perception of sustainability among consumers is increasing.

The research found that 37{d1a1694403c5660430dc420b8f142668f13097a51a1c1fc172179b975fdf78b3} of consumers are seeking out and willing to pay up to 5{d1a1694403c5660430dc420b8f142668f13097a51a1c1fc172179b975fdf78b3} more for environmentally-friendly products and are actively changing their shopping behavior to do so. Americans believe it is more important than ever for companies to be socially responsible, with 86{d1a1694403c5660430dc420b8f142668f13097a51a1c1fc172179b975fdf78b3} of survey respondents saying that they would switch to a company associated with a cause, given similar price and quality.

In 2008, researchers Deborah J. Webb, Lois A. Mohr, and Katherine E. Harris developed the Socially Responsible Purchase and Disposal (SRPD) scale to measure the criteria consumers use to make green purchasing decisions.

The SRPD scale can be used to measure how company behaviors influence consumer choices. For example, corporate social responsibility (CSR) affects green purchasing and helps identify when consumers avoid environmentally harmful products. The scale has helped to determine that consumers buy ‘responsible’ products when they feel that doing so makes a difference. Consumers still expect high-quality products, and if it is ‘green’ and only marginally more expensive than ‘non-green’ products, many people will make the choice to spend more.

The SRPD scale measures four dimensions of ‘responsible’ consumption:

  1. The influence of firms’ CSR performance on consumer purchasing;
  2. Consumer recycling behaviors;
  3. Tradeoffs between traditional purchasing criteria and responsible criteria;
  4. Purchasing criteria based on products’ environmental impact.

The scale has determined that consumers are more likely to buy socially responsible products when they believe their actions can help resolve social or environmental issues, or they value group goals and sharing.

For marketers, it is important to understand how your target audience is responding to your CSR, values, and goals. While choosing to change your business practices can attract traffic, it does not convert to sales without a commitment from the company.

Maintaining Quality is Paramount

Professionals in manufacturing, product development, and quality assurance must ensure CSR does not affect quality. Many companies have been accused of greenwashing, which means conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how environmentally friendly products really are. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.

As a business, you need to put your money where your mouth is. Hire independent third-party analysts to substantiate your claims. Be transparent about your production line and ensure that every person in your company from the top leadership to the front-of-house team knows your values, shares them, and is committed to the promises offered in your CSR.

The SRPD scale can help:

  • track consumer trends and estimate the size of green markets;
  • capture responses to products at the time of purchase;
  • determine which social issues affect purchasing most strongly; and
  • identify which consumers are most likely to respond to CSR programs.

The SRPD Scale as a Starting Point

The SRPD is a tool to help researchers better understand how social responsibility proposals taken by companies affect consumption. Researchers have found that altruism, environmental concern, environmental knowledge, skepticism towards environmental claims, and environmental attitudes to be the main factors that may affect consumers’ green purchasing behavior.

Many studies have reported a discrepancy or “gap” between consumers’ expressed favorable attitudes and actual purchasing practices when it comes to making final purchasing decisions.

One study found that while many consumers showed a positive attitude towards purchases of organic food products (67{d1a1694403c5660430dc420b8f142668f13097a51a1c1fc172179b975fdf78b3}), only a small number of consumers (4{d1a1694403c5660430dc420b8f142668f13097a51a1c1fc172179b975fdf78b3}) actually purchased those products. Similarly, 30{d1a1694403c5660430dc420b8f142668f13097a51a1c1fc172179b975fdf78b3} of consumers in the UK have expressed their concerns about sustainable products but rarely translated their concerns into a green purchase.

This discrepancy between consumers’ favorable attitude towards ‘green’ products and actual purchasing behavior is referred to as ‘green purchasing inconsistency’ or ‘green attitude-behavior gap’. Consumers are not always able to take the actions that they would prefer to, often due to high costs, lack of choice, or even lack of knowledge.

Studies have clearly shown that even though individuals understand the seriousness of environmental issues, their environmental attitudes do not necessarily lead to green purchasing. It has been shown that even consumers with high-level environmental consciousness do not always purchase green products; their choice of products depends on value, quality, availability, and cost.