Research: Explaining green technology purchases by U.S. and Canadian households

Bloustein School PhD candidates Holly Berman Caggiano and Pranay Kumar, and co-authors Rachael Shwom and Cara Cuite (School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University), and Jonn Axsen (School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Canada) decided to explore the effects of three categories of behavioral antecedents on decisions to purchase energy-efficient technology: value, environmental concern, and lifestyle orientation.

In their article, “Explaining green technology purchases by US and Canadian households: the role of pro-environmental lifestyles, values, and environmental concern,” they discovered that a presence of a relationship between biospheric and altruistic values, environmental concern, and “green lifestyle orientation,” predicts green technology purchasing intention in their samples. Income also has a strong effect on purchase intentions for both US and Canadian consumers. Identifying as female in the U.S. was positively related to the intention to purchase an electric vehicle but not in Canada.

Green lifestyle is particularly relevant as a behavior determinate in the case of efficient purchasing behaviors and is positively related to green technology purchasing intention across models, including lightbulb, appliance, and vehicle purchasing intention across US and Canadian samples. This finding reinforces the idea that indicates pro-environmental behaviors are embedded in overall lifestyle and cannot be viewed as isolated actions. As the cost of purchases increases the direct effect of lifestyle orientation on purchase intentions appears to decrease. People are more willing and able to spend more on a light bulb as compared to an appliance or automobile. The ability and willingness to pay the “upfront” cost for energy efficiency may be dampened by the time it costs to recoup savings on the purchase.

There is a strong correlation between income and purchasing intentions. The authors note that household income was statistically significant and positively related to all purchasing behavior in both the U.S. and Canada. Consumers cannot make the choice to purchase efficient appliances if they do not own their own home or purchase efficient vehicles if they do not own a car. Carpooling, biking, taking public transit, and other alternative modes of transportation reduce more emissions than driving even the most fuel-efficient vehicle. Increased financial incentives may induce consumers to make green lifestyle purchases given the tie to income and green purchases.

They recommend that future research explore pro-environmental behavior as integrated within a broader green lifestyle in addition to better communication between government and business to encourage more energy-efficient choices by green lifestyle consumers. Top-down regulations on manufacturing would also help get manufacturers to create more green-friendly consumer goods.