The definitive green consumer simply doesn't exist, suggests a new consumer behaviour study released Monday from the University of Leeds.
An overwhelming mix of ecological and ethical considerations such as buying local, supporting fair trade, and selecting organic are confusing the consumer at the cost of the environment, said William Young, an environment and business professor and lead author of the study.
"They'd be constantly weighing up," Young told CBC.ca on Monday, about the respondents in his study. "They would have certain green criteria like it has to be grown local or it has to be organic, but that would also be competing against normal consumer desires like low price, brand, colour."
Accordingly, a large gap between attitude and behaviour prevails, said Young. Consumers can't resolve factors like brand loyalty, energy efficiency, and buying local. Shoppers who try to weigh all of these considerations often end up buying the same kind of product as someone who had done very little or no research at all.
Most environmentalists have one'blind spot': Young
The study also found that even the most dedicated of environmentalists were willing to make exceptions in certain areas.
"For the radical greens, they were wholly committed to environmental and social issues and they would move their jobs and their houses so they could fit that lifestyle in but they had one sort of blind spot," Young said.
These consumers, who would normally spend a week researching environmental options, wouldrelax their critical rules when it came to indulging in a hobby or a luxury, such as an MP3 player.
"They felt it was their reward for being good, as it were," Young said.
Researchers interviewed subjects, conducted focus groups and workshops and asked consumers about the influences on their spending patterns.
Young noted that consumers who were most successful in buying a true green product were the shoppers who focused exclusively on one issue, such as fair trade, and forgot all other considerations.
Government intervention could help clear the confusion, Young suggested. The study found that respondents expressed a desire to buy responsibly but were often confused by conflicting messages from the government.
"A lot of people want to do something but they didnât know what to do because there wasn't clear guidance or direction from government," said Young.
"On the one hand there will be an environment minister saying, 'Yes, airlines will contribute the biggest CO2 emissions,' but on the other hand, they're expanding airports. For them it was mixed messages coming from the government."