Dan Ariely: Green Consumption Is Not All Positive
Doing a good deed lowers our likelihood of subsequent altruistic behavior (even when it comes to green consumption).
Introduction (Via Predictably Irrational)
There was a time when farmer’s markets, eco products, recycling, and renewable energy were squarely in the tree hugger’s domain. Then, somewhere along the line, green went mainstream, turning environmental awareness into a socially desirable trait and a mark of the moral man.
Excerpt (Via Predictably Irrational)
But is eco-friendliness really a feather in our cap? When University of Toronto researchers Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong recently looked into the topic, they found that exposure to green products can under certain circumstances license us to act immorally.
Through a series of experiments, Mazar and Zhong drew the following distinction between two kinds of exposure to green: When it’s a matter of pure priming (i.e., we are reminded of eco products through words or images), our norms of social responsibility get activated and we become more likely to act ethically afterwards. But if we take the next step and actually purchase the green product (thereby aligning our actions with our moral self-image), we give ourselves the go-ahead to then slack off a little and engage in subsequent dishonest behavior.
So in effect, a green purchase licenses us to say “I’ve done my good deed for the day, and now I can focus on my own self-interest.” I gave at the office, I paid my dues, I did my share — that sort of thing. How moral we choose to be at any given moment depends not only on our stable character traits but also on our recent behavioral history.