Determinants of Pro-Environmental Consumer Purchase Behaviour: Some Australian Evidence



Citation:

G.N. Soutar, B. Ramaseshan, and C.M. Molster (1994) ,"Determinants of Pro-Environmental Consumer Purchase Behaviour: Some Australian Evidence", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 28-35.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 28-35

DETERMINANTS OF PRO-ENVIRONMENTAL CONSUMER PURCHASE BEHAVIOUR: SOME AUSTRALIAN EVIDENCE

G.N. Soutar, Curtin University of Technology

B. Ramaseshan, Curtin University of Technology

C.M. Molster, Curtin University of Technology

ABSTRACT -

While there has been a rise in the availability of "environmentally friendly" consumer products, at present, little is known about the nature and level of pro-environmental point of purchase consumer behaviour. This study attempted to explore specific pro-environmental point of purchase behaviours, examining the extent to which such behaviours were interrelated, whether some types of purchase behaviour were more frequent than others and the possible determinants of such behaviour. Additionally the study aimed to determine if there were groups of individuals with different patterns of environmental point of purchase behaviour and whether these groups could be differentiated by background variables.

INTRODUCTION

The growth in consumer awareness of and concern for the state of the environment has been well documented (Dunlap and Scarce, 1991; Berger and Corbin, 1992; Klein, 1990), as has been the response of marketers. There has been a rise in the availability of consumer products which attempt to reduce detrimental environmental impacts and, as evidence of this, today's Australian supermarket shelves are filled with so-called "environmentally friendly" products in a wide range of product categories.

At present, however, less is known about the extent to which growth in consumer environmental concern has manifested itself in terms of pro-environmental consumer behaviour. A report by the Roper Organisation (1991:28) contends that consumers "have a direct impact on the quality of the environment in two general ways. The first occurs at the point of purchase: Whether consumers actually buy green products and avoid those perceived as contributing to environmental problems. The second occurs after the purchase: What they do with the packaging and waste once the product has been consumed."

Relatively few studies on the efforts of individuals to engage in pro-environmental behaviour have focused on pro-environmental consumer behaviours. Studies that have examined this issue have emphasised the second form of consumer behavioural response; that is, post-purchase environmental behaviour, with the majority of studies focusing on various forms of recycling behaviour (Arbuthnot, 1977; McGuire, 1984; DeYoung, 1989; Vining and Ebreo, 1990). Relatively few studies have examined point of purchase and post purchase consumer behaviour (eg., Roper Organisation, 1991; Berger and Corbin, 1993; Granzin and Olsen, 1991; Dunlap and Scarce, 1991). In general, the results of these studies suggest that consumers are more likely to engage in post-purchase environmental behaviours than in point of purchase environmental behaviours (Roper Organisation, 1991; Berger and Corbin, 1993). Few studies have focused primarily on the pro-environmental actions adopted by consumers when buying products (eg. Schwepker and Cornwell, 1991; Balderjahn, 1988; Lempert, 1991). These studies also suggest that consumer involvement in pro-environmental point of purchase behaviour is limited. Hence, although a Gallup poll revealed that nine in ten respondents were willing to make a special effort to buy products from companies trying to protect the environment (Wasik, 1992) this sentiment has not generally been reflected in behaviour.

Several authors suggest factors that may prevent greater involvement in pro-environmental purchase behaviour, such as the importance of other purchase criteria (Carson, 1991; Davis, 1992; Roper Organisation, 1991) and a subsequent unwillingness to forego other product benefits, such as convenience, quality, price, effectiveness and availability (Bennett, 1992; Wasik, 1992; Roper Organisation, 1991; Lempert, 1991); disbelief of environmental claims in advertising and on product labels (Bennett, 1992; Davis, 1993); busy lifestyles that leave little time to shop around for environmentally friendly product options (Roper Organisation, 1991); and a low level of environmental concern (Balderjahn, 1988). However, few studies have examined the influence of these factors on consumers' point of purchase pro-environmental behaviour. Additionally, few studies have examined the possible influence of personal characteristics, such as age, income, education, occupation, marital status, number of children and personal values on environmental purchase behaviour. Studies which have examined these characteristics with other forms of pro-environmental behaviours have found inconsistencies and mixed results. However, more often than not, they suggest that individuals who engage in pro-environmental behaviour tend to be white, better educated, younger, and higher in income, occupation and socioeconomic status. (eg., Schwepker and Cornwell, 1991; Granzin and Olsen, 1991)

THE PRESENT STUDY

This study attempted to explore specific pro-environmental point of purchase behaviours, examining the extent to which such behaviours were interrelated, whether some types of purchase behaviour were more frequent than others and the possible determinants of such behaviour. The specific research objectives were:

1. To determine if a number of specific environmental point of purchase behaviours could be reduced to an identifiable number of behaviour dimensions ("types of environmental purchase behaviour")

2. To determine if there were groups of individuals with different patterns of environmental purchase behaviours.

3. To determine if these groups had different background characteristics.

METHODOLOGY

The data for this study were drawn from a questionnaire that gathered information on a wide range of environmental behaviours and attitudes. Within the questionnaire respondents indicated their level of involvement in twenty-one specific pro-environmental point of purchase behaviours and their level of agreement or disagreement with twenty-one statements measuring attitudes towards environmental purchase behaviour and "environmentally-friendly" products. These statements were derived from previous research (e.g., Lounsbury and Tornatzky, 1977; Maloney, Ward and Braught, 1975; Van Liere and Dunlap, 1981; Weigel and Weigel, 1978; Dunlap and Van Liere, 1984; Arcury, 1990; 1992; EPA, 1993) but were modified to be relevant in the present study. The List of Values (Kahle, 1983) was also included in the study as a measure of the personal values of the respondents.

All behaviour, attitude and value statements were measured on 5-point Likert-type scales ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5) or never (1) to always (5) as required. Respondents also provided information on a variety of background data, including age, household income, occupation, education, residential address and marital status.

The data were gathered from a sample of residents of the Perth metropolitan area in Australia who were aged 18 years and older. A random sample of 402 respondents was obtained through telephone surveys conducted over a period of weeks by a commercial public opinion polling organisation. The telephone numbers were randomly selected from a computer generated listing of residential telephone numbers in the Perth metropolitan area. Although terminations during the interview were relatively infrequent, a high initial refusal rate of 70% occurred. This was possibly due to the time required to complete the questionnaire, as a result of the large number of questions.

LIMITATIONS

Some sampling errors are possible. The high initial refusal rate may have created sampling bias. There was no follow-up to determine why those that chose not to participate made such a decision and hence there is no way of knowing the extent to which those that refused to participate differ from those who did participate in terms of their environmental behaviour, attitudes and personal values.

As interviews were telephone rather than self-administered, the existence of "interviewer variability" is possible. Sample control was affected as there is no means of knowing who completed the questionnaire. In addition the data is self-reported and, as such, the responses may not represent the true behaviour and attitudes of the respondents. It is possible that the responses are more positive and idealistic, as society tends to suggest that people 'should' be engaging in environmentally-responsible behaviours.

In terms of item construction and, subsequently, scale construction this study should be viewed as exploratory. The nature of any conceptual behaviour and attitude categories identified through empirical means is dependent on the nature of the specific behaviours and attitudes for which data were originally collected. The spectrum of specific behaviours and attitudes included in this study was wide and covered as many probable a priori "types" of behaviours and attitudes as practically possible, without defining specific dimensions as there was no previous evidence to assist in this regard. However, the behaviours and attitudes examined are not exhaustive and it is possible that other conceptual categories exist.

Finally, an error by the public opinion polling organisation in the data collection stage of the study meant that data relating to one of the nine statements that comprise the List of Values could not be used for analysis.

THE RESULTS OBTAINED

Using 1991 Perth Census data (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1993) as a comparison the sample was deemed broadly representative of the general Perth metropolitan population in terms of gender, marital status, age, income and education. The majority of respondents were female (58%) and married (57%). Over a third of the respondents had completed secondary education (35%), while 23% held tertiary qualifications. A majority of respondents (59%) were aged between 21 and 45 and one in five respondents were aged 56 years or older (19.5%).

Initially the behavioural data were analysed to determine if the twenty-one specific consumer purchase behaviours measured could be grouped together into "types of pro-environmental purchase behaviour" based on the nature of any "commonness" between the various behaviours. A principal components factor analysis was used for this purpose. The Keiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy was .92, which has been defined as "marvellous" (Kaiser and Rice, 1974), suggesting that a factor analysis is likely to be very useful in the present situation. Four factors, or "types" of pro-environmental purchase behaviour, with eigenvalues greater than one were formed which, together, explained 53% of the variance in the data. As shown in Table 1, each of the four factors included between three and five behaviours and each was given a name based on the nature of the "commonness" between the variables related to each factor. Three of the original twenty-one statements did not form part of the four factors identified, either due to low communalities (less than 0.3) and/or low factor loadings (less than 0.4) on the factors and therefore were not used in further analysis.

The reliability of each factor was examined using Cronbach's (1951) coefficient alpha. All four factors were found to be sufficiently reliable for this exploratory study as the alpha coefficients exceeded 0.50. The behavioural statements that comprised each factor were summed and divided by the number of statements, to obtain summated scales with means ranging from 1 to 5, which indicated the extent to which respondents were engaged in the four types of purchase behaviour. The results for the four scales obtained are also shown in Table 1, along with the three independent statements.

The mean scores for each of the behavioural factors shown in Table 1 suggested that the respondents were most inclined to purchase products that reduced environmental harm of product waste. They were somewhat willing to buy products with environmental claims on the labels or from companies with a sound environmental reputation and to buy products because of advertising stressing environmental benefits. While the respondents were somewhat willing to buy cleaning products with pro-environmental contents, they were less inclined to engage in "ultra behaviour" or activities such as avoiding over-packaged products or refusing plastic grocery bags at the supermarket.

These results applied to the sample in general. In order to determine if there were subgroups of respondents that had different levels of involvement in each of the types of purchase behaviours a cluster analysis was conducted. The four behavioural scales (types of purchase behaviour) were used as the basis for a Howard and Harris (1966) K-means cluster analysis. The number of clusters was varied between 2 and 8 and, following the procedure suggested by Milligan and Mahajan (1980), the point biserial correlation was used to identify the appropriate number of clusters that best differentiated between the respondents. The point biserial correlation results suggested a five group solution was most appropriate. The percentage of respondents in each group and their mean scores on the four types of purchase behaviour are shown in Table 2.

From the group means it can be seen that Group 1, which accounted for 21.5 percent of the sample, rarely engaged in "ultra behaviour" and was least engaged in other types of environmental behaviour. It seemed this group was least concerned with environmental issues and it was termed the "apathetic" group.

Group 2, which included 20.5 percent of the sample, was moderately engaged in "pro-environmental waste" behaviour and considered "pro-environmental reputation and labels", but was less engaged in "pro-environmental contents" behaviour and rarely engaged in "ultra behaviour". It seemed this group was inclined to buy products with environmental claims on the labels or from companies with a sound environmental reputation. This group also looked for products stressing environmental benefits and products with lower waste problems. This group was termed "concerned - waste".

TABLE 1

TYPES OF CONSUMER BEHVAIOUR-MEAN SCORES AND RELIABILITIES

Group 3, which accounted for a fifth of the sample, engaged in "pro-environmental contents" behaviour, considered "pro-environmental reputation and labels" and was moderately engaged in "pro-environmental waste" behaviour. This group rarely engaged in "ultra behaviour". This group bought cleaning products with pro-environmental contents, used the environmental claims on the labels and preferred those products made by companies with a sound environmental reputation. This group was termed "concerned - reputation and cleaning products".

Group 4, with 16.2 percent of the sample, was engaged in "pro-environmental waste" and "pro-environmental contents" behaviour. The group was also moderately concerned about "pro-environmental reputation and labels" but was least likely to be engaged in "ultra behaviour". This group mostly bought cleaning products and products with waste that was less harmful to the environment. This group was termed "concerned - cleaning and waste".

Group 5, which included 21.3 percent of the sample, was engaged in all types of behaviour. This group was seriously concerned about all aspects of pro-environmental purchase behaviour and was termed "overall concerned".

Having identified five behavioural groups with different patterns of environmental behaviour, interest shifted to an investigation of possible determinants of these patterns of behaviour. A series of analyses was undertaken to determine if the five behavioural groups could be profiled according to their attitudes toward pro-environmental products and actions, their personal values and their personal background characteristics.

Information on twenty-one attitudes towards pro-environmental purchase behaviour and environmentally-friendly products had also been gathered and, in order to reduce the amount of statements to a more manageable number, a principal components factor analysis was used to obtain composite, underlying dimensions that summarised and represented the original set of statements. The Keiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy of 0.78 is defined as "middling" (Kaiser and Rice, 1974) and suggests that it is appropriate to use factor analysis. Six principal components, each having eigenvalues greater than one, were identified that, together, explained 55% of the variance in the data. One of the original twenty-one statements did not form part of any of these components. However, it was retained as a separate variable in the subsequent analysis.

As with the behavioural factors, the reliability of each attitude factor was examined using Cronbach's (1951) coefficient alpha. Three of the six components were found to be reliable and these were given names based on the nature of the high loading variables. The statements within the unreliable factors were also retained as separate variables. The results for the three scales and the other seven statements are shown in Table 3.

TABLE 2

CLUSTER ANALYSIS ON TYPES OF BEHAVIOUR-MEAN SCORES AND % OF TOTAL SAMPLE

TABLE 3

PRINCIPAL COMPONENTS ANALYSIS ON ATTITUDES-RELIABILITY

"Personal Apathy and Loss of Benefits" included attitudes that reflect personal disregard for and apathy toward the problem of environmental destruction, such as can't be bothered buying or don't believe in buying environmentally friendly products. It also included attitudes reflecting a belief that you lose too many product benefits, such as convenience and quality, when you buy environmentally friendly products, as opposed to regular products.

"Financial costs" included attitudes related to the price of environmentally friendly products as compared to regular products, whereby environmentally friendly products are held to be more expensive than regular products. "Lack of knowledge" encompassed attitudes about confusion in relation to pro-environmental products and the need for more information about such products.

In addition to attitudes, personal values were seen as possible determinants of pro-environmental purchase behaviour. Eight of the nine value statements devised as part of the List of Values (Kahle, 1983) were included in the study as a measure of the personal values of the respondents. A principal components analysis was used to determine if the statements could be reduced to a smaller number of conceptual dimensions. Three factors with eigenvalues greater than one were identified and together they explained 61% of the variance in the data. Cronbach's (1951) coefficient alpha suggests that all three factors were reliable and the results for each factor are presented in Table 4.

TABLE 4

PRINCIPAL COMPONENTS ANALYSIS ON PERSONAL VALUES-RELIABILITIES

TABLE 5

DISCRIMINANT ANALYSIS: STRUCTURAL CORRELATION COEFFICIENTS

"Self-Actualisation" included the desire to be self-fulfilled, to have self-respect and to obtain a sense of accomplishment in life. The desires to have a sense of belonging, be well-respected and have warm relationships with others constitute "Relations with Others" while "Fun and Excitement" consists of the desire to have a fun, exciting, enjoyable life.

A stepwise discriminant analysis (Klecka, 1980) was used to profile the members of each of the five behavioural groups, with attitudes, personal values and background variables, such as age, education, occupation, marital status and income, as independent variables. Two significant discriminant functions emerged that, using the I2 statistic suggested by Peterson and Mahajan (1976), explained 31% of the variance in the data. Because it is likely there are some correlations between the various dimensions, the structural correlations were used to examine differences between the groups (Johnson, 1977; Soutar and Clarke, 1981). The structural correlations between the two functions and the independent dimensions which were important (structural correlation greater than 0.3) are shown in Table 5.

As can be seen from Table 5, Function 1 was related to personal apathy, loss of benefits, awareness about the benefits of environmentally friendly products, other factors more important than the environment and financial costs. Function 2 was related to lack of knowledge, dissatisfaction with environmentally friendly products, age and nature of job. It is interesting to note that education, income, marital status and the personal value factors were not found to differentiate the groups.

FIGURE 1

As shown in Figure 1 the two significant discriminant functions may be used to define a multidimensional space diagram upon which can be positioned the centroids of each behavioural group and the structural correlations between the significant variables and the discriminant functions. In Figure 1 the five groups have been plotted at the point that represents the mean standardised discriminant score (ie. group centroid) for each group. The structural correlations have been plotted as vectors. The co-ordinates used to plot these vectors represent the correlation coefficients between each of the discriminatory variables and the two discriminant functions, which are given in Table 5. The relative lengths of these vectors show the amount of variance for each variable explained by the two functions while the direction of the vectors helps to interpret the discriminant functions about which the groups are plotted, and so helps explain the relative differences between the groups. (Soutar and Clarke, 1981)

From Figure 1 it can be seen that differences in environmental consumer behaviour can be related to differences in consumer attitudes towards pro-environmental point of purchase behaviour and environmentally friendly products and also to differences in some background characteristics.

Group 1, who had an "apathetic" type of environmental behaviour, held attitudes that reflected personal disregard for and apathy toward the problem of environmental destruction. They were also most concerned about the loss of product benefits that they associate with environmentally friendly products, financial costs and considered other purchase factors more important than environmental friendliness.

Group 2, who had moderate concern for waste, were most likely employed as professionals and felt that they had inadequate knowledge about environmentally friendly products. They were also most dissatisfied with existing environmental products which could possibly be the reason for their moderate concern for the environment.

Group 3, which was reasonably concerned with reputation and most likely to buy environmentally friendly cleaning products, was fully aware that they are helping the environment when they buy environmentally friendly products. Although they were willing to buy such products if they were readily available, they were currently dissatisfied with the environmentally friendly products that were available in the market. They were also least concerned about other purchase factors and perceived financial and other costs of environmentally friendly products. They were also the oldest.

Group 4, which was reasonably concerned about content of cleaning products and waste, were dissatisfied with current environmentally friendly products and felt they required more information, although they were willing to buy such products if they were more readily available.

Group 5, which was engaged in all types of pro-environmental purchase behaviour knew they were helping the environment by buying environmentally friendly products and were relatively satisfied with the environmentally friendly products available in the market. This group was also relatively older.

These results partly support the suggestions of other authors about possible factors that may prevent greater involvement in environmentally responsible behaviours. While they confirm the importance of suggested influences such as other purchase criteria (Carson, 1991; Davis, 1992; Roper Organisation, 1991) and a consequent unwillingness to forego other product benefits (Bennett, 1992; Wasik, 1992; Roper Organisation, 1991; Lempert, 1991) the present results do not support suggestions that factors such as disbelief in advertising and/or labelling claims (Bennett, 1992; Davis, 1993), busy lifestyles (Roper Organisation, 1991) and low environmental concern (Balderjahn, 1988) influence the level of involvement in environmental behaviours. The present study does not generally support previously reported suggestions about the influence of demographic variables on levels of pro-environmental behaviour. Unlike previous reports (e.g., Schwepker and Cornwell, 1991; Granzin and Olsen, 1991), in this study, those more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviour were not significantly younger or better educated and did not have higher incomes. In fact, those more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviour were more likely to be older.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS

There has been a proliferation of environmentally-friendly products in the market place in Australia in recent years. However, little is known about the behavioural response of consumers to these products. This research is a modest attempt towards understanding the different pro-environment consumer point of purchase behaviour and the possible determinants of such behaviour.

The analysis suggested that pro-environmental point of purchase behaviour can be broadly grouped into four types - purchasing products due to the reduced environmental harm of their waste ("pro-environmental waste"), buying products with pro-environmental reputations through advertising and/or their labels, or from companies having a sound environmental reputation ("pro-environmental reputation and labels"), buying cleaning products with pro-environmental contents ("pro-environmental contents") and engaging in activities such as removing excess packaging before leaving the store and buying goods in bulk to reduce or eliminate packaging ("ultra behaviour").

The present study found that there were five subgroups of consumers with different levels of involvement in each of the types of pro-environmental point of purchase behaviour. These subgroups were termed "apathetic", "concerned for waste", "concerned for reputation and cleaning products", "concerned for cleaning products and waste" and "concerned overall". These five subgroups were almost all of the same size.

Differences in environmental consumer purchase behaviour were related to differences in consumer attitudes towards pro-environmental point of purchase behaviour and available environmentally friendly products and to differences in some background characteristics, such as age and occupation. However education, income, marital status and the personal value factors were not found to differentiate the groups.

On one extreme there was a group of consumers which was indifferent to environmentally friendly purchase initiatives ("apathetic"). This group found purchase factors other than environmental friendliness to be more important and associated a loss of product benefits with environmentally friendly products. This group was concerned about the financial costs associated with such products.

At the other extreme there was a group which was involved in all aspects of pro-environment purchase behaviour, was relatively satisfied with the existing environmentally friendly products and had a strong feeling of contribution to environmental preservation by purchasing environmentally friendly products ("concerned overall").

Between these extremes were three subgroups who have moderate to reasonable involvement in specific types of pro-environmental purchase behaviour. All three groups were aware of the benefits to the environment of buying environmentally friendly products, they do not perceive such products to have less product and financial benefits than traditional products and are willing to buy such products if they are within their reach, however, they are generally dissatisfied with the existing environmentally friendly products in the market place. Two of the three groups ("concerned for waste" and "concerned for cleaning products and waste") also felt a need for further information about pro-environmental purchase behaviour, particularly in relation to the characteristics of environmentally friendly products. The group termed "concerned for reputation and cleaning products" did not lack knowledge about environmentally friendly products but were dissatisfied with those products presently on the market.

Against the background of intense competition, changing consumer preferences and an increasing number of consumers concerned about environmental issues, it is imperative for marketers to develop and launch environmentally friendly products and packaging that meets consumer needs and expectations. This study has shown that, in spite of certain reservations, many consumers are willing to buy environmentally friendly products as long as they are deemed satisfactory. There are opportunities that have emerged from the public's concern with clean air and water, recycling, pollution and other related issues. Marketers should respond to environmental issues by product improvements that try to help prevent lasting environmental problems, merchandising and packaging that is better for the environment.

From a marketing perspective it is important that the reasons for current levels of dissatisfaction with environmentally friendly products be determined and addressed. Efforts should be made by marketers to determine why the three moderately concerned behavioural groups ("concerned for waste", "concerned for reputation and cleaning products" and "concerned for cleaning products and waste") are dissatisfied with present environmentally friendly products, particularly as these groups are relatively unconcerned about the product benefits and the financial costs of environmentally friendly products. Marketers also need to educate those groups requiring more knowledge of such products, particularly with respect to the contents, methods of use and the benefits of environmentally friendly products if they are to enhance the level of pro-environmental purchase behaviour.

Marketing strategies designed to bring about attitude change appear necessary in order for marketers to persuade the "apathetic" group to engage in pro-environmental purchase behaviour. This group considers environmentally friendly products to have too many costs and not enough benefits compared to traditional products. Marketers need to educate this group about the contents, methods of use and the benefits of environmentally friendly products if they are to increase their level of pro-environmental purchase behaviour. It might also be necessary to develop lower priced environmentally friendly product alternatives to attract consumers from the "apathetic" group and to obtain increased participation from consumers in other groups.

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Authors

G.N. Soutar, Curtin University of Technology
B. Ramaseshan, Curtin University of Technology
C.M. Molster, Curtin University of Technology



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994



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