Branding Problem

Emphasizing the environmental benefits of energy-efficient lightbulbs makes conservatives less likely to buy those products, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Energy-efficient technology can be a tough sell. Even though it saves people money in the long run, it requires an initial investment. To encourage purchases, some companies run advertising campaigns billing the products as eco-friendly. But “this emphasis on the environment might detract from the appeal of energy efficiency among individuals who do not want to be associated with environmental concern,” the authors write.

In a survey of 657 people, the team found that conservatives were less supportive of energy-efficient technology than liberals. Then the researchers devised an experiment to test how political attitudes affected actual purchases. They gave 210 people a choice between buying an incandescent lightbulb or an energy-efficient, longer-lasting fluorescent lightbulb. Sometimes both bulbs cost the same, and sometimes the fluorescent bulb cost more. Some fluorescent bulbs were labelled with a sticker saying “Protect the Environment,” while others were not.

When the bulbs cost the same amount, nearly every participant picked the fluorescent one. But when the fluorescent bulb cost more, the results got more complicated. Conservatives presented with an eco-labelled fluorescent were about half as likely to choose it as conservatives presented with a bulb without an environmental label. In other words, they “preferred to bear a long-term financial cost to avoid purchasing an item associated with valuing environmental protection,” the authors write. Roberta Kwok | 29 April 2013

Source: Gromet, D.M., H. Kunreuther, and R.P. Larrick. 2013. Political ideology affects energy-efficiency attitudes and choices. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi: 10.1073/pnas.1218453110.

Image © Olivier Le Moal |