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Explaining consumer choice of low carbon footprint goods using the behavioral spillover effect in German-speaking countries

Penz, Elfriede, Hartl, Barbara, Hofmann, Eva
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.214 pp. 429-439
behavior change, business enterprises, carbon dioxide, carbon footprint, consumer preferences, education, greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable development, Central European region
The aim of the research was to investigate how to stimulate sustainable consumer behaviors that lead to a lowering of the carbon footprint. Because of environmental challenges at the individual and societal levels, researchers agree that behavioral change is necessary. We argue that when already performing a sustainable behavior, this behavior can spill over to other sustainable actions, even to more difficult ones. First, we studied whether a positive behavioral spillover occurs between product categories and whether the spillover effect depends on the ease or difficulty of the sustainable behavior. Second, we investigated whether high awareness of sustainability determines the spillover between categories. We conducted three online experiments in Central Europe, investigating whether spillover takes place between behaviors assigned to the same category (transport or food) or between behaviors assigned to different categories (transport or food). In all three studies participants had to make two independent decisions. In studies 1a (N = 281) and 1b (N = 195), the effect of the ease/difficulty of the behavior was tested. In study 2 (N = 164), awareness of CO2 emission reducing effects was manipulated. Findings revealed a behavioral spillover between sustainable choices. Consumers who behave sustainably by choosing a CO2 emission reducing option in the first decision (related to either transport or to food) were more likely to show sustainable behavior in the second decision. The difficulty of performing a sustainable behavior did not impact the spillover effect. By manipulating awareness of negative effects of CO2 emissions specifically, a positive spillover effect was found. Results thereby confirm behavioral spillover effects. Although it appears that the difficulty or ease of a behavior did not matter for the spillover effect, awareness of consequences of sustainable behavior did. The research contributes to the field of sustainable consumption by suggesting the positive behavioral spillover effect as means to increase sustainable choices. This may stimulate corporate sustainability strategies of companies. Moreover, increasing problem awareness strengthens the sustainable behavior. Education in sustainable development may address this.