Special Topic Session Summary Consumer Behavior Processes As Bases to Segment the 'Green' Marketplace: Applications to Solid Waste Disposal

Linda F. Alwitt, DePaul University
Ida E. Berger, University of Toronto
[ to cite ]:
Linda F. Alwitt and Ida E. Berger (1993) ,"Special Topic Session Summary Consumer Behavior Processes As Bases to Segment the 'Green' Marketplace: Applications to Solid Waste Disposal", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 188.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Page 188



Linda F. Alwitt, DePaul University

Ida E. Berger, University of Toronto

General opinion polls indicate that concern for the environment has become an important public issue. These polls record a growing recognition among consumers that their behaviour contributes either to environmental problems or to their solutions. This trend represents a new dimension in consumer demand offering marketers an opportunity to apply the societal marketing concept and policy makers a new vehicle to effect environmental clean-up. This trend also poses a major challenge: while many consumers say they favor a clean environment, few appear willing to change their behaviors. Marketers and policy makers want to: (1) identify consumers willing to make behavioral changes; (2) discover what changes they are willing to make; (3) find ways to influence these behaviors.

This special session brought together research on consumer behavior which examined intrinsic and extrinsic influences on how environmental concerns are related to consumer choices. The session provided both conceptual bases for understanding the inconsistencies between attitudes to the environment and behaviors, and guidance to practitioners about how to influence consumers in environmentally-differentiated segments. The researchers reached beyond socio-economic variables to consider behavioral processes as potential bases for environmental behavior segments.

Working from the assumption that motivation, knowledge and a plan of action are preconditions for consumers' behavioral intentions, Robert Pitts and Linda Alwitt (DePaul University) developed four segmentation variables in a specific product category. Based on the results of a mail survey distributed to over 1000 women they argued that in addition to general environmental attitudes 1) personal relevance of the product category, 2) awareness of the environmental problem, 3) willingness to pay to alleviate it and 4) willingness to take non-monetary action should also be considered as bases for segmenting consumers for 'green' products. They illustrated the use of these bases by successfully segmenting consumers in the disposable diaper market and showing how these variables can be used to differentially influence the segments' behavioral adaptations to the new 'green' environmental values.

George Balch (University of Illinois at Chicago) examined cognitive, behavioral, political and sociological reasons for demographic differences in the propensity to recycle solid waste in Chicago. Because his research used a heterogeneous sample (the city of Chicago) rather than the homogeneous communities studied in the past, he was able to examine recycling propensity among racial and ethnic groups. From the results of both focus groups and surveys Balch reported that recycling behavior cannot be adequately explained using simple socioeconomic variables. His study indicated that recycling can be better understood in terms of cognitive factors such as awareness, personal relevance, and the positioning of environmental problems, as well as attitudes toward the "producer" [the City]. Moreover, these cognitions can be attributed to the cultural, social, and political divisions that exist in Chicago. His results implied that marketing efforts which recognized this heterogeneity by providing a mix tailored to each segment were likely to be most effective.

Using recent research in social cognition, Linda Alwitt (DePaul University) and Ida Berger (University of Toronto) developed a new model of attitudes that explicitly recognizes the moderating role of attitude 'strength' in the process whereby attitudes influence behavior. They reported the results of a study that applied this model to predicting consumer behavioral intentions toward aseptically packaged, single servings of juice, fruit and pudding. Alwitt and Berger concluded that to fully evaluate and influence consumer behaviors toward an environmentally sensitive product, public policy makers and marketers must consider more than simply the valence of attitudes. They showed how a second aspect of attitudes, its strength, can influence the ability of an attitude to predict consumer intentions toward the product.

In commenting on these papers, Debra Scammon (University of Utah) drew attention to the different conceptual levels that existed in people's concern (ie. threats to endangered habitats vs. local air quality) and to the fact that 'green' is really a relative term. There is in fact no such thing as an 'environmentally friendly' product. What we have are products and adaptations that are perhaps "less harmful". The session concluded with a lively discussion that included a plea from a local official involved in solid waste management that researchers try to disseminate findings such as these to "those in the trenches" and to the general public.