Green Consumerism

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In line with past research (Mainieri, Barnett, Valdero, Unipan, & Oskamp, 1997), we define buying green as purchasing and consuming products that are benign toward the environment (e.g., products with postconsumer recycled materials, with minimal or reusable packaging, and made from biodegradable ingredients). As one would expect, people who have stronger pro-environmental beliefs about the importance of buying green are more likely to buy products boasting environmental claims. Once again, women are more environmentally concerned and make more environmentally friendly purchases (Ebreo, Hershey, & Vining, 1999). Age, income, and education are not related to purchasing patterns.

Purchasing food is one of the most continuous and significant environmental choices we make. Food habits are socially induced behaviors that have important environmental repercussions:

Americans eat oysters but not snails. The French eat snails but not locusts. The Zulus eat locusts but not fish. The Jews eat fish but not pork.

The Hindus eat pork but not beef. The Russians eat beef but not snakes.

The Chinese eat snakes but not people. The Jale of New Guinea find people delicious. (I. Robertson, 1987, quoted by Myers, 1992, p. 187)

People who want to make environmentally appropriate food choices must consider the issue of meat eating. Because livestock eat grain and soybeans, meat is an energy-inefficient food form. Twenty vegetarians could be fed by the same amount of land needed to feed one meat-eating person (Hollender, 1990). Although meat could be produced in environmentally sustainable ways, currently it is not. Land degradation from grazing now constitutes one of the planet's most serious environmental problems: 90% of harmful organic waste-water pollution is attributable to U.S. livestock, and livestock produces 250,000 pounds of excrement per second. Such pollution destroys fish and shellfish in rivers subjected to livestock runoff. Because feedlots are so unhealthy, 55% of antibiotics in the United States are given to livestock, posing health risks for humans who eat them (Hollender, 1990).

Part of the difficulty in changing our food consumption habits arises from social diffusion: With everyone else making these inappropriate food choices, it is easy for us to make them too. Furthermore, resisting them can be socially awkward. When Deborah's parents visited her a few years ago, she took them to a local restaurant that served her father's favorite: barbecued spare ribs. She thought about asking where the beef was produced, but felt that such a question would be socially awkward. Soon Deborah was thinking about what a special treat this was, in an effort to reduce her cognitive dissonance about feeding her parents an environmentally destructive food. Ironically, they were busy applying similar dissonance reduction strategies, as her father had recently had heart bypass surgery and knew that eating red meat can be dangerous. (The risk of a meat-eating American male having a heart attack is 50%; the risk to a vegetarian American male is 4%; Hollender, 1990.)

Walking into any American supermarket presents norms that easily lead us to globally destructive choices. Food appears plentiful and cheap; plastic bags appear free; thoughtful placement and advertising of items makes it easy to select unneeded products; other people comb the aisles filling their baskets with environmentally destructive choices. Given such strong norms, social psychologists would predict that changing behavior will be difficult. Choosing to shop in alternative settings would be wise from a social psychological point of view. Food stores offering items in bulk (enabling the consumer to reduce unnecessary packaging), farms selling direct to customers (enabling the reduction of fossil fuels used to ship food all over the country), and

Consumerism Ecological Problem
Source: Reprinted with permission of Chris Süddiek.

stores offering a good selection of healthful fresh organic foods instead of chemically treated, processed foods, all provide situations in which good choices are easier to make.

Making environmentally responsible consumer choices will require some thoughtfulness, but is not so difficult once you start. For example, when Deborah first drafted this chapter during the early weeks of December, she also contemplated her Christmas gift list. She attempted to make choices with less environmental impact than those she had chosen the previous year. Some of her gift items were a set of music lessons for her husband, a membership at the YWCA for her best friend, and for her niece a hand-crocheted vest she had purchased 20 years ago in Greece. To the extent that she purchased new objects, she did so primarily through mail order, because going shopping provides too many norms for environmentally irresponsible buying. Deborah enjoyed her time away from the shopping mall, where the advertisements, strategically placed sale items, and other busy shoppers purchasing large amounts communicate a norm of buy, buy, buy, and buy some more. Christmas, the biggest shopping season of the year, has become a consumer (and environmental) nightmare.

Once we make small changes, other changes become easier. Deborah remembers switching over to a brand of nonpolluting household cleaners (sold widely under the name of Shaklee products). Realizing that these cleaners were cheaper and just as effective, she examined other household items, like fabric softener, which really seemed unnecessary. In this way, the foot-in-the-door technique can facilitate a larger series of changes, once the initial changes are made. Asking our grocers about local and organic products, registering our desire for them, and talking to our friends about having similar conversations, can start a self-attribution process that results in bigger changes than we might first expect. When we explain our actions to ourselves as environmentally responsible, and begin to see ourselves as global citi

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zens, we become more conscious of other choices, and changes become easier and easier.

Switching from a consumer to a sustainable lifestyle will be healthy not only for our environment, but also for ourselves, as we will see in chapter 5 on physiological and health psychology. In the last chapter, we will say more about what a sustainable culture might look like, and how the various subfields of psychology could contribute to it. For now, however, let us close by summarizing our ecological problem from a social psychological perspective.

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  • belba
    How green consumerism is fixing global warming?
    3 years ago

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