The Ying-Yang of Ecological Consumerism

What do you get when you join a Swiss psychologist, a Dutch professor of social and environmental psychology and a Post-doc in psychology at Northwestern University? A study of 547 Swiss residents about how socioeconomic characteristics (education, employment and occupational level), living circumstances ( place of residence, household income, household size), and store characteristics (supermarket or organic food stores) affect green consumerism. The study was published in the journal Environment and Behavior in January 2004 [Vol 36 (1): 94-111]. What is also interesting (especially since I always write about life cycle assessment) is that the study compared people's self-reported consumption patterns with their respective calculated environmental impacts based on — you guessed it — life cycle assessment.

To keep a complicated article short, they conclude (what we would probably expect) that people's reported ecological behavior did coincide with less harmful environmental impacts. Basically, people that thought they were making more ecological choices were! Phewf. Thank goodness. Sometimes I do fear that although I am making what I think are more eco-friendly choices, I might be mistaken or misinformed. They do say their comparison is limited because they didn't include milk, but I am willing to accept this one little study's findings. The other interesting result from the study is how the consumer patterns were affected by socioeconomic characteristics, living circumstances and stores. They found that socioeconomic characteristics did not influence people's tendency for green consumption. People with "low" and "high" education levels reported the same thing, as did people with low and high occupational levels, housewives and full-time employed wives, retired versus fulltime workers and low versus high household income levels. It seems that no matter what their socioeconomic status, the Swiss group is willing (or not) to make the same green consumer choices. (However the study recognizes that those results could be just by chance) Where there were significant differences was in living circumstances and store characteristics. For example, compared to a rural area, urban areas have a hard time buying minimally packaged products like unbottled milk or unpackaged cheese. However for urbanites it's a lot easier to get eco-labelled products or fairly traded goods. It's interesting that no one condition seemed to hinder or support green consumerism. They both have their good and their bad sides.

So it seems that no matter where you live there will be things that make your green lifestyle easier and things that make it more difficult to achieve. Obviously your beliefs and your ideas influence all of this, but no matter what those are the Swiss pointedly note that your behavior will ultimately also be influenced by your residential environment, the stores where you shop and the number of people that live in your house. Regardless of studies and Swiss-Dutch-American observations, keep going green and try not to let those influences stop you from helping keep Mother Earth cleaner. Full article here, ::Environment and Behavior