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Carbon Footprints Discourage Green Behavior
It’s counterintuitive, but educating a consumer about their environmental footprint makes it less likely they will engage in green behavior. That’s the intriguing conclusion of recent research from The University of Santa Clara, and it’s backed by several other studies as well.

When told their personal impact on the planet, the average consumer feels guilty, becomes overwhelmed, and subconsciously aligns their beliefs with their current actions, rather than vice versa.

Over half of Americans say, “The more I know about sustainability, the guiltier I feel.” Surprising as it is to those of us who were raised to believe, “guilt is the gift that keeps giving,” consumers’ first response to green guilt is to try to forget the information that made them feel guilty, not to make changes.

Even if they are motivated to become greener, many recipients of environmental footprint analysis are paralyzed by the number of areas where they should act differently. The task is just too Herculean, so why start at all?

Finally, as we all learned in Psych 101, nobody likes cognitive dissonance, when our actions and beliefs are not aligned. It appears that the quickest way for the majority of consumers to get rid of green dissonance is to change their beliefs.

We should think about...
  • Is our green marketing inadvertently causing unproductive green guilt?
  • How can we help consumers focus on making a few, easy, high-impact eco changes, rather than becoming immobilized by a laundry list of all they could do?
Sources: OgilvyEarth 2011; Santa Clara University 2011; Social Influence 2011
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