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Measuring the environmental cost of hypocrisy

Caplan, Arthur J., Sims, Charles, Anderson, Elliot Jordan
Ecological economics 2014 v.108 pp. 124-135
carbon, cardboard, ecological footprint, sociodemographic characteristics, surveys, willingness to pay
This paper provides an example of how to estimate the marginal environmental cost of hypocrisy using revealed-behavior and self-identification survey responses from coffee drinkers regarding their use of cardboard and plastic (i.e., non-reusable) cups. Coffee shops provide a convenient microcosm for assessing the impact of hypocritical behavior because of (1) readily available, cheap substitutes (i.e., reusable coffee cups), (2) a relatively accurate estimate of the environmental (in particular, carbon) cost associated with using non-reusable cups, and (3) the ability to delineate hypocritical behavior by observing a choice with relatively few potential confounding factors. Hypocritical behavior is measured as a geometric mean of how often an individual takes coffee in a non-reusable cup and the degree to which the individual self-identifies as being concerned about his environmental footprint. All else equal, the more often a person takes his coffee in a non-reusable cup and the greater the degree to which he self-identifies as being concerned about his footprint, the greater the individual's “hypocrisy score.” Controlling for other attitudinal and demographic characteristics (including self-identified awareness of environmental issues and willingness to pay for the convenience of using a non-reusable cup), we are able to determine the marginal effect of an individual's hypocrisy score on the environmental cost associated with the use of non-reusable coffee cups.