There is hardly any need to convince anyone of environmental issues. Awareness about global warming and depleting resources is ubiquitous. This is evident in the increased usage of energy-saving devices, as well as changes in consumption habits, patterns and choices.
Eco-bags of all sizes, shapes and designs flood the market. After LED bulbs, solar panels are the current fad. Organic food and produce are almost always sold out in upscale Sunday markets and health stores.
Branded eco-bags cost a small fortune. If the intention was to have a bag one can reuse indefinitely, it makes more sense to bring a sack bag (“bayong”). At present, solar panels may only be efficient for industrial use. For households, proper and regular maintenance of appliances would be a more realistic option.
Although there is some truth to the claim that organic produce are good for health and are less harmful to the environment, they are priced relatively higher than produce sold in public markets. A sensible diet coupled with an active lifestyle may be more sustainable and beneficial.
The irony is best demonstrated by the popularity of Toyota Prius. An article described the Prius as “a compact salon with a small trunk, standard cloth seats, excellent gas mileage and a sluggish engine.” As a hybrid gas-electric car, Prius consumes less fuel and has lower emissions. It, however, costs many thousands of dollars more than a conventional but highly fuel-efficient variant.
Interestingly, when the New York Times asked Prius owners the reasons for their purchase, environmental conservation was the last on the list. Instead, the owners proudly bragged that the number one reason for the purchase was because it “makes a statement about me.” Simply put, owning a Prius shows that the owners care. This is the Prius Effect.
In “Going Green to Be Seen,” two experiments echo a similar effect. In the first, two equally priced product groups were provided for selection. Products in one group were luxurious and high-performing. In the other, products were superior in pro-environment benefits. Traditionally, people tend to choose luxury and performance to exhibit status. Respondents in this experiment, however, sacrificed them for products superior in pro-environment benefits.
Intriguingly, results were different when the product groups were priced differently. When the price of the products superior in pro-environment benefits was lowered by 20 percent, the respondents opted for the luxurious and upscale product.
Altruism means regard and concern for others. An altruistic behavior is a communicative signal. Visible and lavish displays of altruism build social reputations. Purchase of pro-environment products signals that one is voluntarily willing and able to incur the cost of owning an inferior one. These persons are perceived as caring and trustworthy.
Altruism is associated with status partly because displays of altruism signal one’s ability to incur costs. More than signaling a person’s concern for others and community, it also signals that one has the wherewithal to sacrifice resources without a negative effect on oneself.
Thus, purchase of a pro-environment product that is cheap, regardless of its performance, creates a reputation and status dilemma. This explicitly signals that one cannot afford the expensive product.
Sigh! Anonymity still remains the truest expression of altruism.
Real Carpio So lectures on strategic and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of Ramon del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.