Archived—Project Summaries 2007-2008 - Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention

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1. Consumer Behaviour and Sustainable Consumption:
How do we Encourage Consumers to Purchase Sustainably?

2007-08 $91,864
2008-09 $77,584

When we purchase goods or services, our decisions are influenced by many personal factors including what we can afford, our health and age, societal pressures, and even temporary factors like mood. Sustainable consumption (SC) requires the consumer to also consider issues that may be less personal, such as the impact of products or services on our environment and on the well-being of others. Governments around the world, including Canada, have started to recognize the impact of consumer behavior on our environment and society and are trying to develop national strategies to address this issue. In order to obtain a better understanding of how to encourage consumers to incorporate SC into purchasing choices, we need to better understand purchasing behavior patterns. This primary research study will investigate Canadian specific purchasing behavior patterns and provide recommendations on the types of interventions that could lead to a greater number of consumers incorporating SC into their purchasing decisions. This project will also assist the federal government to address specific goals to reduce toxins, air emissions and energy related emissions associated with consumer activities.

The proposed methodology for this study will be as follows:

A panel study will be conducted involving two groups of responders: one group (N=300) will be randomly selected from across Canada, while the other group (N=300) will consist of individuals from across Canada who are already environmentally knowledgeable and aware. This survey will follow the purchasing behaviors of these two groups over a one year period using a multi-method, longitudinal research approach designed to address the following research objectives:

  1. To explore and identify consumer values related to SC and purchasing (e.g., the relative importance of immediate personal benefits versus long-term social well-being).
  2. To identify the extent to which consumers incorporate sustainability issues in their purchasing decisions, including an analysis of differences across selected types of products and services.
  3. To identify how consumers determine what is a sustainable product (or the environmental impact of a product), including the role of product labelling (i.e., Energy Star and the EcoLogo) in purchasing decisions. These results will identify the types of products most likely to benefit from additional labeling or green marketing.
  4. To identify the barriers to sustainable purchasing behaviour, including price, product quality, convenience and information credibility.
  5. To determine the correlation between purchase intent and purchase behaviour with SC products and services. That is, if an individual intends to purchase a more sustainable product (see Goal #2), are they effective at making the sustainable choice? These analyses will involve an assessment of the product chosen by the consumer, and the degree to which the choice reflects sustainable intentions.
  6. To segment consumers based on their values, attitudes or behaviours regarding sustainable consumption.
  7. To identify potential intervention approaches that can assist in increasing sustainable purchasing behaviour.

The scope of the research will compliment government interests of reducing toxins, air emissions and emissions related to climate change. Therefore the product and service areas which will be addressed will include: personal care and cleaning products, products used in the home and for home renovations, product categories currently eligible for EcoLogo and Energy Star certification, as well consumer preferences for daily and vacation transportation needs. The respondents will complete a total of four surveys throughout the year and will also be asked to complete a one-week purchase diary once during the one year survey process which will inform on frequent purchases. The survey and diary questions will be developed under the guidance of consumer behaviour and marketing scholars and a social psychologist.

Survey data collected using the web-based interface (and also mail responses) will be imported into the SPSS statistical software. The quantitative data will be analyzed using inferential statistics specific to each of the five goals based primarily on OLS regression and ANOVA. In addition to hypothesis testing, descriptive statistics such as means, standard deviations, and frequencies, will be used as appropriate to summarize the survey results in a clear and understandable format. Based on the outcomes, we will be able to advise governments on the most appropriate interventions, point of purchase information, types of products to target, and overall consumers' willingness to incorporate sustainability into their purchasing decisions. This information can also be used by various stakeholders who are interested in promoting sustainable consumption.