Green shopping: genuine change, or just another search for status?

So, do you look for labels such as “recycled,” “organic,” or “biodegradable” when you shop? Many of us do… but debates still rage over the overall impact of promoting green shopping as a means to lighten our collective footprint. Some argue we should meet people where they are… and that means addressing our self-image as consumers. Others counter that such tactics only maintain a status quo based on unsustainable resource inputs, and that we should be pushing for less consumption… particularly in the developed world. Such approaches may not only improve environmental quality, but also make us happier, as we’re not consumed by the need to get and spend.

A recent study out from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management may underline the notion that green shopping doesn’t produce radical change… in fact, it may even help entrench the equation of “our stuff = our selves.” Vladas Griskevicius’ “Going Green to Be Seen: Status, Reputation, and Conspicuous Conservation” argues that many see buying green as a status symbol. The result: we’ll buy green when others are watching, but opt for cheaper, less eco-friendly products when we’re out of sight of others (i.e., buying online). The report notes “A reputation for being a caring individual gives you status and prestige. When you publicly display your environmentally friendly nature, you send the signal that you care…”

Forget status: does green shopping make us meaner?

The University of Minnesota study is particularly interesting when paired with another, slightly older study examining how green consumption affects our behavior towards one another. People who buy green are generally nicer and more caring, right? Not necessarily. Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong argued in “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” that “…people who wear what they call the ‘halo of green consumerism’ are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. ‘Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours,’ they write.”

Does that mean we should give up those trips to Whole Foods? Probably not… but it is very interesting to see some of the potential behavioral effects of the rise of green consumerism.

What do you think? Problematic studies? Or, proof that the mantra of “buy green” may not be the panacea many of us hope?

via Wallet Pop


  • We’re gearing up for this weekend’s blogathon, and hope you’ll join us!
  • If you are shopping green, take a look at our selection of organic clothing.

Image credit: / CC BY 2.0