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"Greenwashing": how do consumers respond

Harkink, K.M. (2015) "Greenwashing": how do consumers respond.

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Abstract:Together with the popularity of buying ‘green’ products, came the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’: presenting products as ‘green’, which are not. This study examines whether consumers respond differently to ‘greenwashing’, ‘vocal green’, ‘silent brown’, and ‘silent green’ organizations, which produce hedonic products (perfume) or utilitarian products (detergent). A distinction between those two products is made because both products have different purposes. A hedonic product is characterized by an affective and sensual experience, while a utilitarian product has to fulfill a useful function. The products and organizations used in this research are fictional. The research focuses on consumers from the Netherlands. A 2 x 2 x 2 experiment (environmental performance: good or bad; communication about environmental performance: no or positive communication; product type: hedonic or utilitarian) using n = 250 subjects was conducted. An online questionnaire was used to fulfill the experiment. A ‘greenwashing’ organization is characterized by: bad environmental performance, but positive communication about environmental performance. A ‘vocal green’ organization is characterized by: good environmental performance and positive communication about environmental performance. A ‘silent brown’ organization is characterized by: bad environmental performance and no communication about environmental performance. A ‘silent green’ organization is characterized by: good environmental performance and no communication about environmental performance. In this study, six dependent variables were used: the use of environmentally friendly claims, the sincerity of the communication, environmental performance, the overall grade for the organization, the overall grade for the product, and the purchase intention. The eight conditions did not differ in terms of potentially relevant background variables: age, gender, educational level, interest in environmental issues, and interest in the product types. The results show significant main effects for the organizations’ environmental strategy. No main effects were found for product type, and there were no significant interaction effects between environmental strategy and product type. Consumers thus did not respond differently to a hedonic product (perfume) or a utilitarian product (detergent), and consumers did not respond differently to ‘greenwashing’ of a hedonic product and ‘greenwashing’ of a utilitarian product. The same is true for all other conditions. The variables ‘use of environmentally friendly claims’ and ‘sincerity of the communication’ can be seen as control variables. The results show significant differences between ‘vocal’ and ‘silent’ organizations on the variable ‘use of environmentally friendly claims’. ‘Vocal’ organizations (‘greenwashing’ and ‘vocal green’) received a significant higher score than ‘silent’ organizations (‘silent brown’ and ‘silent green’). A significant difference between ‘silent brown’ organizations and ‘silent green’ organizations was found. ‘Silent brown’ organizations received a significant lower score than the ‘silent green’ organizations. On the variable ‘sincerity of communication’, a significant difference is found between ‘greenwashing’ organizations and the other organizations. ‘Vocal green’, ‘silent brown’ and ‘silent green’ organizations received a significant higher score than ‘greenwashing’ organizations. It worked; the manipulation of the conditions was a success. ‘Brown’ organizations (‘greenwashing’ and ‘silent brown’) received significant lower scores on environmental performance, overall grade for the organization, overall grade for the product, and purchase intention, than ‘green’ organizations (‘vocal green’ and ‘silent green’). Only on the variable environmental performance, the score of ‘silent brown’ organizations was significantly lower than the score of ‘greenwashing’ organizations. The current research shows that the environmental policy of ‘green’ organizations is more favorable than the policy of ‘brown’ organizations. ‘Green’ organizations received significant higher scores than the ‘brown’ organizations. We can state that ‘green’ organizations are more popular than ‘brown’ organizations. The behavior of ‘greenwashing’ and ‘silent brown’ organizations should be evaluated and changed into being ‘green.’ ‘Greenwashing’ and ‘silent brown’ organizations should change in being ‘vocal green’ or ‘silent green.’ Being ‘vocal’ or remaining ‘silent’ about being ‘green’, seems not to matter.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
Link to this item:http://purl.utwente.nl/essays/66744
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