Ethical consumerism has been on the rise but a new study suggests that green consumers are a bunch of liars and cheats. The study, Do Green Products Make Us Better People? shows that ethical consumers are more likely to lie, cheat and steal.
What is that? Simply because people participating in the study felt they already done their bit for the planet by purchasing green products. As a result, they felt no particular obligation to be ethical afterwards. In fact, they were downright unethical.
In their experiment at the University of Toronto, researchers found that people who bought organic food or environmentally friendly products were rated more highly for being altruistic, co-operative and ethical. Then it got interesting.
Taking 156 students in exchange for a class credit, the researchers put them in front of computers and exposed them at random either to an online shop offering mostly eco-friendly products or to one offering mostly conventional goods. Some were asked to rate the products only on the aesthetics of design and how informative the information was. The rest were invited to make purchases. All were then asked to engage in an exercise that involved sharing money.
The ones who had merely rated the products actually shared the most money. But the ones who actually purchased the products were the least generous.
That was bad enough. But then the researchers got students who shopped in either the green store or the conventional store, and then presented them with a computer visualization task. It was simple enough. They were told they could earn money by correctly identifying which side of a box, divided by a line, contained more dots. But those sneaky researchers deliberately put a glitch into the system. You got paid regardless of which side of the box you hit. In other words, you got the money just for making a key stroke.
The researchers found that the green shoppers were more likely to answer incorrectly. In other words, they were more prepared to lie than answer correctly if it meant they would get more money.
The researchers write: "In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, results showed that people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green products than after mere exposure to conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products than after purchasing conventional products. "
Why is this study important? Simply because it suggests there are a lot of people out there who think it's enough to just insulate their homes or use green bags for shopping. These people might think they're doing enough to save the planet when in fact it requires a lot more work, sacrifice and political activism. And many would not be as ethical as they think.