Monday, April 4, 2011

Sustainability in Action Sports' Survey Results – Part 1: Environmental attitudes towards purchasing green functional outerwear

Sustainability in Action Sports' Survey Results – Part 1: Environmental attitudes towards purchasing green functional outerwear below! This is very interesting and enlightening so please read! Part 2 coming tomorrow.


Let’s start with one of the most significant influences on behavioral intention in the context of sustainable consumerism: the consumer’s attitude towards the behavior. Ajzen and Fishbein (1980)[1] define attitudes towards a behavior as a “person’s judgment that performing the behavior is good or bad, that he is in favor of or against performing the behavior” (p. 6). According to their theory “attitudes are a function of beliefs” (p. 7). In a sustainable consumer behavior context, a high degree of environmental attitudes would govern an individual’s evaluation of their purchasing behavior and thus his or her behavioral intentions.
Descriptive results: Attitudes towards purchasing environmentally friendly outerwear

So-called “behavioral beliefs” had to be rated by the participants from -3 to +3. Positive numbers stand for a positive attitudinal beliefs towards performing the behavior, vice versa. The following nine beliefs have been chosen to account for the array of beliefs that is likely to have an effect on green consumer behavior in this context:

I believe…
  • avoiding the exploitation of scarce natural resources is…
  • conscious consumption as a statement of personal opinion is…
  • making non-sustainable companies change their mind is…
  • encouraging retailers to stock more environmentally friendly products is…
  • my peace of mind (for saving the environment) is…
  • supporting producers of environmentally friendly products is…
  • an eco-friendly product needs to have the same quality as the conventional product…
  • eco-friendly outerwear has to be offered at the same price as conventional outerwear…
  • purchasing a product, which is readily available is…
‘extremely unimportant’ (-3) to ‘extremely important’ (+3)

Discussion of the results

Consumer attitudes in my research can be split into product related attitudes andgeneral attitudes towards purchasing environmentally friendly or socially sound clothing – or functional outerwear. The key issue with green functional outerwear is delivering the product in comparable quality to the classical product (see above graphic: with a rating of 2.1 out of 3 on average). The other product related attitudes like the availability of the product and the price premium that usually has to be paid for outerwear with functional garments from recycled or certified ressources can be found at the bottom of the list. Many respondents deemed it least important for the price of eco-friendly products to be similar compared to “normal” products (see above graphic: lowest score of 1.2). But the relatively high standard deviation of 1.5 tells us that opinions differed significantly between certain types of consumers – ranging between “indifference” (-0,3) and “extremely important” (+2.7). When asked whether they believed that these green products are actually available at the same price in the shops, the majority of respondents though this was “rather likely” (not part of the above graphic). Combined, the low relative importance of price and the positive expectation of finding affordable, sustainable products on the shelves are a very positive influence on purchase intentions – at least theoretically. BUT, those are just attitudinal beliefs and subjective expectations, which are no indication of acceptance of a premium when it comes down to real behavior in the shops. This discrepancy is one of the main causes of the attitude-behavior gap, which will be further investigated later on.


The remaining 6 attitudes towards purchasing green gear are all rather positive. It needs to be noted that all these attitudes are a strong indication for the existence of strategic consumer behavior. Conscious consumers with a relatively well developed know-how about the textile value chain take the positive side-effects of green consumerism into account. Apart from the necessity to reduce or avoid the exploitation of scarce natural resources, the strong environmental attitudes about the potential of collective action to indirectly affect the future decision-making of an entire industry (higher turnover for green producers and retailers vs. lower sales for non-sustainable companies) should not be underestimated.

Practical implication for marketeers


Communication strategies with a strong focus on sustainability should try to explain this mechanism to consumers more clearly. Apart from making the complex product life cycle more transparent and focusing messaging on the classical competitive superiority of a product line (price, quality, design, brand), an innovative marketing strategy could additionally focus on the positive effects of strategic consumer behavior for your company or your green product line. Marketing should first of all emphasize on functionality and appearance “with environmental superiority ‘only’ complementing this value added” (Meyer 2001, p. 328)[2]. Also, the problem of consumers dramatically lacking information about the inevitability of paying the “real” price for the resources that all products consist of and/or the energy used up during their production process, needs to be tackeld.



Moreover, the collective buying decisions (support) or non-buying decisions (boycott) of consumers can have unexpectedly strong effects on changing the game and moving towards a sustainable future. Such a movement will make it increasingly easy for environmentally and socially friendly brands to succeed (e.g. US company Patagonia or Swiss-based Zimtstern, whose product are 100% bluesign certified). The purchase of certified or recycled clothes and outerwear, supports not just the producers and suppliers, but also helps the growth of sustainable production processes in general (cp. Hustvedt and Dickson 2009, p. 63)[3], which has positive long-term effects on the natural and social environment. This marketing approach could be especially fruitful in certain subcultures connected by a lifestyle closely related to nature, like the outdoor sports industry. This has rarely been the focus of marketing and advertising campaigns. Joint Marketing Initiatives sparked by the industry’s leaders (including producers, retailers, brands, athletes and other players like certification companies) might help to further raise the percentage of sustainable consumers by explaining customers why their money is well spent on sustainable products and how their individual support helps.


Segment 2 of Part 1 will follow shortly:

It will cover the consumer’s motivation to comply with subjective social norms of significant other in their social surroundings…

Let me know if you are missing anything crucial, in case you disagree, like what you are seeing, too much content, not enough, any questions etc. => Comments below very much appreciated!
References:
[1] The modified Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), Ajzen, Icek and Martin Fishbein (1980), Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior: Prentice Hall.
[2] Meyer, Arnt (2001), “What’s in it for the customers? Successfully marketing green clothes,” Business Strategy and the Environment, 10 (5), 317-30.
[3] Hustvedt, Gwendolyn and Marsha A Dickson (2009), “Consumer likelihood of purchasing organic cotton apparel: Influence of attitudes and self-identity,” Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 13 (1), 49-65.
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