It’s nearly Christmas and the pressure of trying to buy gifts for our loved ones can often see us caving to overconsumption. With many non-essential shops closed in the run up to the festive season, ordering online can mean we end up with things we might not really want.
Whether we buy too much and have to send it back or our unwanted gifts get sent to landfill, it can be difficult to navigate the festive season if you are trying to purchase more responsibly. Seemingly necessary spending on food, gifts, travel and entertainment can leave you stressed out and wholly fed up by the time December 25th rolls around.
There may be one saving grace of conscious consumerism, however, as researchers at the University of Concordia in Montreal, Canada have found that buying green has a positive effect on how you feel about your purchases. Dubbed the “greenconsumption effect” it could help encourage people to buy more eco-friendly products.
Green purchases make us feel better about what we are buying
Assistant professor, Ali Tezer, came up with the idea for the research after watching a 3D movie using glasses made from recycled plastic. Despite being the only choice available to him, Tezer found he enjoyed the movie more knowing that the glasses were more environmentally friendly.
Five experiments were done as part of the study to look at participant responses to a variety of products. Professor of Marketing, Onur Bodur worked with Tezer to look at how choosing green options affected participants enjoyment, sense of social worth, and whether the true impact of the product effects that warm glow feeling.
“When consumers are using these green products they might end up enjoying the accompanying experience,” says Bodur. “As a result may want to purchase that.”
Those who listened to music on headphones labelled as green, for example, said that they enjoyed the music more and would be more likely to purchase them than those listening on conventional ones.
The “greenconsumption effect” could even help overcome misconceptions that prevent people from buying eco-friendly products because they believe they don’t work. Bodur claims that widely held beliefs about green cleaning products being less efficient than their standard counterparts can be counteracted by the “warm” glow people get when they feel they are helping the environment. Researchers found that, after using the products, biases against their effectiveness went away.
Not all supposedly environmentally friendly products gave participants a glowing feeling, however. When the environmental impact was felt to be low, eco-friendly ink in a disposable pen, for example, the same positive impact wasn’t seen. This means that unscrupulous companies looking to profit from greenwashing are unlikely to benefit from dishonest attempts to cash in on the feeling that buying green items brings.
“I believe consumers are becoming a lot more conscious of green attributes, despite all the confusion with regard to certifications of sustainability,” adds Bodur.
Cutting consumerism altogether might be better
Even better for your wellbeing and the planet, though, could be not buying at all.
A study released in 2019 found that people who had less consumerist values bought less and were happier as a result. Although buying green might give you that initial good feeling, Sabrina Helm and her team found that it didn’t improve consumer wellbeing in the long run.
“We thought that it might satisfy people that they participate in being more environmentally conscious through green buying patterns,” Helm told Science Daily, “but it doesn’t seem to be that way.” Among their millennial participants, those who often opted not to buy had better financial behaviours. These behaviours were associated with better personal wellbeing, financial satisfaction, lower psychological stress and even overall life satisfaction.
The researchers recognise that it could be hard for consumers to change long-established behaviours. “We’ve been told since childhood that there’s a product for everything and it’s okay to buy,” explains Helm, “We’re brought up this way, so changing behaviours is very difficult.”
Whether you choose to buy green or not to buy at all, it seems that it could benefit more than just the environment.