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.: July 2010 --> Do-Gooders give themselves license to cheat elsewhere

Do-Gooders give themselves license to cheat elsewhere

» It seems that humans do a simple moral calculation whenever faced with a choice: "Have I done something good recently?" Those who have (or who have just thought about it) tend to give themselves more leeway in other areas.

University of Toronto behavioral marketing professor Nina Mazar showed in a recent study that people who bought green products were more likely to cheat and steal than those who bought conventional products. One of Mazar's experiments invited participants to shop either at online stores that carry mainly green products or mainly conventional products. Then they played a game that allowed them to cheat to make more money. The shoppers from the green store were more dishonest than those at the conventional store, which brought them higher earnings in the game.

From a practical standpoint, this behavior offsets any gains the "good" behavior might otherwise have engendered. I'd like to see some research on the subset of people who bought from the green store and didn't cheat. How do they see the world differently than everyone else?

 [ 07.23.10 ]


Thanks for this. The article you link to is interesting and I recommend it as well.

I think that Mazur and the other experts might be missing a key element in this. Most things promoted as 'green' (including Whole Foods) are not. They are designed to appeal to a relatively wealthy niche market. And they do that very well. They charge a premium price for goods often available elsewhere at a lower price point.

Whole Foods in particular is an interesting case in point (full disclosure- I own their stock as does my employer). Their traditional target market is college towns, where the schools attract students with a lot of disposable wealth. They have grown by aquistion- eliminating local organic food stores. They appeal to the kids with a green/sustainable message, who in turn spend Mom and Dad's money on goods that they can (often) find at the chain store for 5-15% less. They do carry organic produce, meats and cheeses. The selection is better (generally) than chain stores, but the point is not to be "greener" than thou, but to extract a premium for the products they provide. One might conclude that their 'green' label is a cynical, if brilliant, positioning ploy.

In my opinion, the 'green' consumer space is dominated by products (and sellers) that provide little in the way of environmental or ecological improvement, but appeal to consumers who are in the market for some kind of eco-indulgence. I think history shows us how the indulgence business (for both buyers and sellers) is a moral hazard.

Our environmental problems will not be solved by the purchase or sale of indulgences.

I have to wonder if Mazur's story says more about the state of green consumerism and who is attracted, than by how most people behave.

I'd say the Green Cheaters are naive and limited in their outlook, compromised by depending on conventional social mores, and that those with the integrity to avoid cheating see a bigger picture. Living as I do in Northern California, where the local and bioregional effort is really ramping up, the reason most often stated for organic or local is dependability in the coming decades when the price of oil skyrockets as its accessiblilty diminishes. The people who are basing their choice this way do so because they want to support the farmers and producers who will be able to supply the food grown within 100 miles, or the natural bioregion. This is the kind of integrity that shows a real evolution of consciousness, going beyond consumer to a more expanded consideration.

This is the real source of change and accountability that is fueling the green movement, the Farmer's Markets, the local ranchers offering natural meats, it's not just about organic, it's about sustainability.



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