Exploring Green Consumers in an Oriental Culture: Role of Personal and Marketing Mix Factors

Prem Shamdasani, National University of Singapore
Gloria Ong Chon-Lin, National University of Singapore
Daleen Richmond, National University of Singapore
ABSTRACT - Although still in its infancy, the green movement has started to make its impact on the consumption decisions and behaviors of Singaporean consumers. This exploratory study examined differences among ecologically-concerned and non-ecologically-concerned consumers with respect to their personal and social characteristics, and their perceptions of the marketing of green products. Significant differences were found in terms of attitudes and personality traits among green and non-green consumers. Additionally, while there was a perceived lack of marketing effort for green products and services, green consumers were more aware of green alternatives and were willing to pay higher prices and expend more time and effort to adopt environmentally-friendly consumption behaviors.
[ to cite ]:
Prem Shamdasani, Gloria Ong Chon-Lin, and Daleen Richmond (1993) ,"Exploring Green Consumers in an Oriental Culture: Role of Personal and Marketing Mix Factors", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 488-493.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 488-493

EXPLORING GREEN CONSUMERS IN AN ORIENTAL CULTURE: ROLE OF PERSONAL AND MARKETING MIX FACTORS

Prem Shamdasani, National University of Singapore

Gloria Ong Chon-Lin, National University of Singapore

Daleen Richmond, National University of Singapore

ABSTRACT -

Although still in its infancy, the green movement has started to make its impact on the consumption decisions and behaviors of Singaporean consumers. This exploratory study examined differences among ecologically-concerned and non-ecologically-concerned consumers with respect to their personal and social characteristics, and their perceptions of the marketing of green products. Significant differences were found in terms of attitudes and personality traits among green and non-green consumers. Additionally, while there was a perceived lack of marketing effort for green products and services, green consumers were more aware of green alternatives and were willing to pay higher prices and expend more time and effort to adopt environmentally-friendly consumption behaviors.

INTRODUCTION

While the concern for the environment and ecology has been receiving a great deal of attention in the developed countries in the last two decades, it has only recently surfaced in the rapidly industrializing South-East Asian countries. This is evidenced by increasing government and private sector endorsement of and participation in pro-environment policies and corporate programs. The green movement has finally arrived in this part of the world through the concerted efforts of local and international publics as well as state and private organizations.

Singapore has taken the leadership in the greening of South-East Asia by actively promoting environmental awareness in Singapore and aggressively pursuing its vision to become a model "Environment City". Singapore aspires to be a regional base for environmentally friendly products and services as well as to help transfer green technology from developed countries to this region (Business Times 1992).

The timing is therefore right for consumer research that examines factors that motivate and hinder the adoption of green behaviors and products in an Asian context. This research has been further motivated by ACR's call for papers on social issues of which the "green" issue and its implications for consumer behavior will no doubt be a major preoccupation for both academics and practitioners in the 1990s and beyond.

This paper seeks to answer basic questions about Asian consumers' personal and social characteristics that influence environmentally-friendly consumption decisions and the role of external agents, such as government agencies and private firms, in facilitating the adoption of green products and services. Since the green movement in Singapore is still in its infancy stage, this is one of the first research attempts to provide a descriptive profile of the environmentally-concerned consumer and assess the relative influence of the fledgling green marketing movement in encouraging environmentally-friendly consumption behavior among Asian consumers.

The green consumer is generally defined as one who adopts environmentally-friendly behaviors and/or who purchases green products over the standard alternatives. In this study, the terms 'green', 'environmentally-friendly' and 'ecologically-conscious' are used interchangeably. Green or environmentally-friendly products are broadly defined as products "that will not pollute the earth or deplete natural resources, and can be recycled or conserved" (D&B Reports 1990). The green products of interest in this study are consumer household products, personal care products, and recycled paper and stationery since they are most affected by environmental concerns and are sold in retail outlets in Singapore. The study also includes non-purchase related behaviors such as recycling paper for other uses, avoidance of styrofoam containers for food, recycling of drink cans or bottles and sorting of trash from recyclable materials when disposing of wastes.

The basic objective of this paper is therefore to explore differences between "green" and "non-green" Singaporean consumers on personal, social and marketing mix dimensions. We first review past research on the ecologically concerned consumer and factors that influence the adoption of green products. This is followed by a discussion of the methodology and validation of the constructs. Finally, the differences between green and non-green consumers are analyzed and implications of the findings discussed.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Personal Characteristics

Consumer attitudes have been used in past studies to predict energy conservation, recycling and ecologically-conscious purchase and use of products. Kassarjian (1971) studied consumers' reaction toward a gasoline that reduced air pollution and found that there was a positive correlation between concern for air pollution and willingness to pay higher prices for it. Attitude toward air pollution (expressed by concern) was the most important variable in determining consumers' behavior toward the product. Kinnear and Taylor (1973) investigated attitudinal and behavioral dimensions of ecological concern and found them to have marked effects on brand perceptions for laundry products. In a study conducted in West Germany, Balderjahn (1988) found that a positive attitude toward ecologically-conscious living resulted in ecologically-responsible buying and using of products, including the use of automobiles. It also prompted consumers to publicly show environmental concern by signing ecologically relevant petitions and supporting or joing an antipollution organization.

Past research has shown that socially- or ecologically- concerned consumers do possess certain personality traits that consumers low in social or ecological concern do not possess. Anderson and Cunningham (1972) found that social consciousness tended to vary inversely with dogmatism and conservatism. Personal competence (a feeling of mastery of one's personal life and environment) was slightly less effective as a discriminator, tending to vary inversely with social consciousness. Kinnear, Taylor and Ahmed (1974) explored the relationship between socioeconomic and personality characteristics of consumers and the amount of ecological concern. They found that the ecologically concerned consumer tended to perceive strongly that individuals could be effective in pollution abatement; was more open to or tolerant of new ideas; desired to understand the workings of things and scored moderately with respect to harm avoidance.

Crosby, Gill and Taylor (1981) studied the concept of alienation as a personality variable to determine the ecological behavior of voting for the deposit law. Alienation, which was defined as powerlessness or meaninglessness and not isolation, was found to be very significant in predicting the behavior of voting for the deposit law. In other words, perceived consumer effectiveness and ecological behavior were strongly related. Balderjahn (1988) also studied the relationship between ecological concern and personalitiy variables: alienation, emotional expression and ideological control. The concept of ideology control was similar to the perceived consumer effectiveness dimension identified by Kinnear et al. 1974. He found that ideology control was more significant in predicting ecologically-responsible consumption patterns than alienation or emotional expressiveness. Consumers who were internally controlled saved more energy and displayed ecologically responsible buying and consumption patterns. Anderson and Cunningham (1972) discovered that cosmopolitanism was more effective than alienation in discriminating between high and low social consciousness, and that the socially-conscious consumer was more cosmopolitan and less alienated (that is, more socially involved or integrated).

While demographics have been used by various researchers in determining ecologically conscious behavior, the results have not been consistent. Studies that have found significant relationships between ecological consciousness and demographics (e.g., Anderson and Cunningham 1972; Kinnear et al. 1974; Anderson, Henion and Cox 1975; Murphy 1978; Belch 1980; Van Liere and Dunlap 1980; Roper Organization 1990) generally suggest that environmentally-conscious consumers tend to be younger; are more highly educated; come from households with higher incomes; and have higher occupational status. Other researchers (e.g., Granzin and Olsen 1991; Crosby et al. 1981; Balderjahn 1988) found that demographics had little or no effect on environmental behavior. Although Webster's (1975) socially concerned consumer was a nonconformist member of the upper middle class with a high family income, he concluded that demographics were not as good predictors as personality and attitude measures.

Marketing Mix Variables

Past research has largely focused on personal charateristics as correlates of ecological behavior. Very little has been done to examine the impact of green marketing efforts on the adoption of green products and services. In a study on the American consumers' environmental behaviors and attitudes, the Roper Organization Inc. (1990) found some of the following marketing mix related reasons for not behaving in an environmentally-friendly manner:

(1) the green alternatives were not functionally superior;

(2) the green alternatives were too expensive;

(3) the labels claiming that the product was environmentally-safe were not believable; and

(4) the green alternatives were too difficult to find.

The perceived relative advantage (e.g., quality and functional performance) of green products over standard alternatives is likely to influence their rate of adoption (Rogers 1983). The relative advantage of green alternatives would have to be weighed against their prices. The analysis of this cost-benefit relationship is complicated by the fact that prices of green products reflect other costs in addition to money costs. These include opportunity costs, energy costs and psychic costs. If the major benefits of green products, compared to the major costs are higher, then consumers will be motivated to purchase these products even if they are priced somewhat higher than non-green substitutes (Kotler and Zaltman 1971).

The Roper Organization's (1990) survey found that consumers in general were not ready to bear the cost of improving the environment, in the form of higher prices for green products. Even the most environmentally committed group in the survey appeared to be highly price-sensitive, willing to pay only 7.4% more for green products and a fifth of them would pay nothing more. From focus group interviews of American consumers, Progressive Grocer (1990) reported that consumers were either not willing to pay more for green products or were willing to do so only if they liked the product or if the product was of comparable quality to the regular brand. In a study of Australian consumers, Suchard and Polonsky (1991) found that 61.5% of the respondents would pay more for environmentally safe products while 22.2% were unsure if they would pay more for green products. On the average, those respondents who indicated that they would pay more for green products were willing to pay between 15% and 20% more.

The promotion and distribution of green products contribute to consumers' awareness of the selection and availability of green alternatives. This awareness, however, does not always lead to ecologically-friendly consumption decisions. A recent survey of Singapore consumers by the Business Times (1991) showed that almost all of the respondents interviewed indicated that they would like to know where to buy environmentally friendly products. But, they were not willing to pay a higher price for green products if they were priced higher than conventional products. In another instance, where green alternatives were known to be available in stores and sold side by side, standard brands outsold their green substitutes by as much as 30 to 1, even though the green substitutes were competitively priced.

METHODOLOGY

Sample and Procedure

The data were collected through self-administered questionnaires that were distributed by hand. Judgement was used in distributing the questionnaires to various respondents in shopping malls, restaurants, clinics, theaters, exhibitions, colleges, and residential neighborhoods. Respondents were selected based on their involvement in or ability to influence actual purchase decisions, and being capable of voluntarily adopting environmentally-friendly behaviors.

Of the 300 questionnaires that were distributed, 207 or 69 percent were returned and usable for analysis. The final sample of respondents comprised of Singaporean consumers who came from a cross-section of backgrounds including professionals and executives, clerical and administrative staff, production and technical staff, students, homemakers, secretaries, security and military personnel, and retirees. In terms of age, respondents ranged from fifteen to fifty-five years. Based on chi-square analysis, differences among respondent groups on age, education and household income categories were not significant at alpha = .10.

Classification of Green Consumers

Respondents were classified as green or non-green consumers based on their composite scores on a 12-item index which was adapted from The Roper Organization's (1990) study of American consumers' public attitudes and individual behavior with regard to the environment. The scale measured respondents' frequency with which they performed each of the twelve environmentally-friendly purchase (e.g., buy products made from recycled materials) and non-purchase related behaviors (e.g., return containers for recycling). A respondent was operationally classified as an environmentally-concerned or green consumer when his or her cumulative frequency score on the scale was greater than 31 (the mean cutoff score). Those respondents whose score was 31 or less were classified as non-environmentally-concerned or non-green consumers. Based on this criterion, the final sample consisted of 97 environmentally-concerned consumers and 110 non-environmentally-concerned consumers.

APPENDIX A

PREDICTOR VARIABLES: RELIABILITIES AND SAMPLE ITEMS

It should be noted that ecological-consciousness is a continuum consisting of consumers who are more or less ecologically-conscious. The classification of consumers who are more ecologically-conscious as "green" and those who are less-ecologically-conscious as "non-green" was done for two purposes: (1) to develop an exploratory, descriptive profile of a "green" Singaporean consumer; and (2) to enable broad comparisons between green and non-green consumers to be made. Future research needs to examine in greater detail the correlates of ecological-consciousness as a continuous dimension.

Validation of Measures

The first stage of the validation exercise involved performing factor analyses on 72 items measuring personal characteristics and marketing mix variables that were hypothesized to influence environmentally friendly consumption behavior. Since this research is at an early stage, exploratory factor analysis was performed to reduce a large number of measures to a more manageable, statistically independent and reliable set of constructs. Principal components was used for extraction of factors and rotation was performed using the Varimax method. Four marketing mix variables (factors) and seven factors corresponding to personal characteristics were extracted. The percentages of variation explained by personal characteristics and marketing mix variables were 55.2% and 49.4% respectively. Only items with loadings greater than .4 were considered for interpretation.

The second stage of the validation exercise involved subjecting the 11 factors identified to reliability testing. Cronbach's alpha was the measure of reliability used. Since this research is in its early stage, modest reliability in the range of 0.5 to 0.6 is recommended (Nunnally 1967). The Cronbach's alphas for the marketing mix and personal characteristic factors were in the range of .38 to .65 and are reported in Appendix A.

TABLE 1

PREDICTORS OF ECOLOGICAL CONSCIOUSNESS: MEANS AND SIGNIFICANCE

ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

The first stage of the analysis involved exploratory testing of individual-level differences between green and non-green consumers on personal characteristics and marketing mix variables using t-tests. This was followed by the development and testing of a predictive model that discriminates between green and non-green consumer using discriminant analysis.

Personal Characteristics

The t-test results of the differences between ecologically-concerned and non-ecologically-concerned consumers are presented in Table 1 (I). Green consumers possess more favorable attitudes toward the environment than non-green consumers. They are more willing to scarifice personal comfort and adopt environmentally-friendly behaviors for environmental gains. They are more likely believe that the environmental crisis is real and legitimate, and are more concerned and aware of risks posed by environmental threats.

Green consumers are more internally-controlled as they believe that an individual consumer can be effective in environmental protection. Thus, they feel that the job of environmental protection should not be left to the government, business, environmentalists and scientists only; they as consumers can also play a part. They are also less dogmatic and more open-minded or tolerant toward new products and ideas. Their open-mindedness helps them to accept green products and behaviors, which are new ways of doing things, more readily.

Socially, green consumers are more cosmopolitan and socially integrated. Being more cosmopolitan, exposes them to environmental problems and solutions in other countries which in turn makes them more knowledgeable and environmentally proactive. However, no differences were found between green and non-green products in terms of the perceived influence of the government (t=1.22, p>.10) and satisfied users of green products (t=1.06, p>.10) in encouraging the adoption of green products.

No demographic differences between ecologically-concerned consumers and non-ecologically-concerned consumers were found. Using chi-square analysis, there were no significant differences between the groups at alpha = .10 with regard to age (X2=7.17), education (X2=5.65), household income (X2=7.52), and occupation (X2=.73). These findings are consistent with previous studies (Webster 1975; Crosby et. al. 1981; Balderjahn 1988) which revealed that demographics are weak predictors of ecological behavior.

Marketing Mix

Results of the tests of differences between green and non-green consumers on their perceptions of the marketing mix of green products and services are reported in Table 1 (II).

These results indicate that there are significant differences between green and non-green consumers on perceptions of product, price, and placement of green products. Green consumers do not perceive environmentally-safe products as less superior to non-green alternatives and they are less deterred from adopting green products by the lack of product variety (t=2.64, p<.01).

Green consumers are also more willing to pay higher prices for environmentally-safe products than non-green consumers (t=2.62, p<.01), as they perceive green products as being able to provide value for money and it is worth paying a higher price for them, especially if the green products possess the level of quality in a regular brand.

There were significant differences in behaviors and attitudes concerning the distribution and accessibility of green products (t=3.44, p<.01) between green and non-green consumers. Green consumers are willing to expend effort to search for green alternatives, are aware of where green products are sold and are more willing to frequent stores that sell green products. On the other hand, non-green consumers find the narrow distribution of green products inconvenient.

Although green consumers differed from non-green consumers on their perceptions of the promotion of green products (t=1.44, p<.10), both groups of consumers could be equally deterred from adopting green products by the lack of promotion. Green as well as non-green consumers perceive a need for more promotion of green products, through special displays, dissemination of information and a distinctive labelling scheme.

TABLE 2

DISCRIMINANT FUNCTION COEFFICIENTS FOR SIGNIFICANT PREDICTORS

Predicting Green Consumers

A predictive model comprising selected personal, social and marketing mix factors was developed and tested using discriminant analysis. Two-thirds (i.e., 139) of the respondents formed the analysis subgroup, while the remaining one-third (i.e., 68) of the respondents formed the holdout sample for testing the predictive validity of the model. Using the Wilk's lamda criterion, the model that significantly differentiates between green and non-green consumers is presented in Table 2. The final discriminant model comprised 7 variables and was significant at p<.01. The classification results for both the analysis and holdout samples are about 65% and 66% respectively.

Despite the modest predictive efficacy of the discriminant model, it provides some preliminary insights into the relative importance of factors that influenced adoption of green products and behaviors. In this model, the distribution and accessibility of green products was found to be the most important factor, followed by attitudinal variables, namely, attitude toward risks, attitude toward environmentally-friendly behavior and attitude toward comfort. Other variables that were found significant included the relative dogmatism of the consumer and the perceptions of price and product attributes of green products.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

This exploratory study examined the differences among green and non-green consumers with respect to their personal and social characteristics and their perceptions of the marketing of green products. Given the encouraging results, it was thus possible to develop a preliminary profile of the ecologically-conscious consumer in Singapore.

In general, the green consumer when compared to the non-green consumer, has more favorable attitudes toward the environment, is more internally controlled and open-minded, more socially-integrated and cosmopolitan. In terms of demographics, however, ecologically-concerned consumers were not different from their non-ecologically-concerned counterparts. It is also interesting to note, that green consumers do not significantly differ from non-green consumers with regard to two sources of influence - the government and other satisfied users of green products. However, it does not mean that these two sources of "green" influence are not important in shaping environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviors. Due to their limited treatment in this study, additional research incorporating a more elaborate explication of these influence constructs is needed in order to enable us to better understand and appreciate the nature and extent of their impact on green behavior.

The results also suggest that the current marketing of green products, or the lack of it, forms a barrier to the acceptance of green products, and that non-green consumers are more likely to be deterred from adopting environmentally-friendly products than green consumers. It was acknowedged by both groups that there was a general lack of green promotion. However, the higher prices, unavailability and narrow distribution of green alternatives in Singapore did not deter existing green consumers. They are more likely to expend a greater amount of time and energy than non-green consumers in locating and purchasing green products and services.

The findings seem to suggest that Singaporeans' decision to adopt environmentally-friendly consumption decisions is largely driven by personal factors (e.g., personality and attitudes) rather than by the government. This conclusion is at best tentative and future research needs to more precisely delineate the relative influence of various change agents such as the government. External influence attempts from government agencies through green campaigns, for example, may help shape positive attitudes toward green products and services, but not necessarily behavior. For example, the Singapore Government had to subsidize unleaded gasoline to encourage motorists to switch from leaded to unleaded gasoline. The resulting lower prices of unleaded gasoline have been slowly, but surely, encouraging motorists to switch away from leaded gasoline.

However, given the growing and immediate concerns of the government about environmental issues, pro-environmental legislation in the future will probably be more pervasive and used more effectively to encourage environmentally-friendly consumption behaviors in Singapore. This does not, however, preclude the need for greater public education as well as economic incentives to reinforce consumers' green attitudes and behaviors.

Future research should examine in greater depth the attitude-behavior inconsistencies arising from conflicts between internal (e.g., personal beliefs or lifestyle) and external (e.g., social conformity) pressures. Also, the effectiveness of various public and private environmental programs should be compared especially between those that involve moral suasion and financial incentives/disincentives.

REFERENCES

Anderson, Thomas W. and William H. Cunningham (1972), "The Socially Conscious Consumer," Journal of Marketing, 36 (July), 23-31.

Anderson, Thomas W., Karl E. Henion, and Eli P. Cox (1975), "Socially vs Ecologically Responsible Consumers," in 1974 Combined Proceedings, ed. Ronald C. Curhan, Chicago: American Marketing Association, 304-311.

Balderjahn, Ingo (1988), "Personality Variables and Environmental Attitudes as Predictors of Ecologically Responsible Consumption Patterns," Journal of Business Research, 17, 51-56.

Business Times (1992), "Resolution on Environment and Development Adopted-Fifth Asean Meeting on the Environment," (February 19), Singapore.

Business Times (1991), "The Changing Attitudes of Singaporeans to the Environment," (May 25), Singapore.

Crosby, Lawrence A., James D. Gill, and James R. Taylor (1981), "Consumer/Voter Behavior In The Passage of The Michigan Container Law," Journal of Marketing, 45 (Spring), 19-31.

Granzin, Kent L. and Janeen E. Olsen (1991), "An Investigation of the Characteristics of Participants in Conservation and Environmental Protection: An Emphasis on Helping Behavior," in 1991 AMA Educators' Proceedings, eds. Mary G. Gilly et al., (Summer), Chicago: American Marketing Association, 177-186.

Kassarjian, Harold H. (1971), "Incorporating Ecology Into Marketing Strategy: The Case of Air Pollution," Journal of Marketing, 35 (July), 61-65.

Kinnear, Thomas C. and James R. Taylor (1973), "The Effect of Ecological Concern On Brand Perception," Journal of Marketing Research, 10 (May), 191-197..pa

Kinnear, Thomas C., James C. Taylor, and Sahrudin A. Ahmed (1974), "Ecologically Concerned Consumers: Who Are They?" Journal of Marketing, 38 (April), 20-24.

D & B Reports (1990), "The Selling of the Green," (September/October), 38 (5), 30-31/35.

Kotler, Philip and Gerald Zaltman (1971), "Social Marketing: An Approach To Planned Social Change," Journal of Marketing, 25 (July), 3-12.

Murphy, Patrick E. (1978), "Environmentally Concerned Consumers," in Proceedings of the 1978 Educator's Conference, ed. Subash Jain, Chicago: American Marketing Association, 316-320.

Nunnally, Jum C. (1967), Psychometric Theory, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Progressive Grocer (1990), "Consumers Speak Out on the Environment," (November), 16-22.

Rogers, Everett (1983), Diffusion of Innovation, New York: The Free Press.

The Roper Organization, Inc. (1990), "The Environment: Public Attitudes and Individual Behavior," July.

Suchard, Hazel T. and Michael J. Polonsky (1991), "A Theory of Environmental Buyer Behavior and Its Validity: The Environmental Action-Behavior Model," in 1991 AMA Educators' Proceedings, eds. Mary C. Gilly et al., (Summer), Chicago: American Marketing Association, 187-201.

Van Liere, Kent D. and Riley E.Dunlap (1980), "The Social Bases of Environmental Concern: A Review of Hypotheses, Explanations And Empirical Evidence," Public Opinion Quarterly, 44 (Summer), 181-197.

Webster, Fredrick. E. (1985), "Determining the Characteristics of the Socially Conscious Consumer," Journal of Consumer Research, 2 (December), 188-196.

----------------------------------------