How cultural beliefs and social forces are shaping the use of technology Essay
How cultural beliefs and social forces are shaping the use of technology
David Wigder, who has significant experience as an Environmental Engineer (2007) wrote that marketers have historically faced an uphill battle when it comes to marketing eco-friendly goods. Simply put, it is difficult to influence consumer purchase behavior without first impacting attitudes and values. These values, however, take a concerted effort over a long period of time to change. As a result, corporate marketers tend to stay clear of awareness and education communications, preferring to target consumers lower in the purchase-funnel who are already predisposed to green messaging.
The reason for this is self-evident: when it comes to green, acquisition campaigns have higher and more immediate financial returns than awareness campaigns (Wigder, 2007). Yet, for marketers, the opportunity exists to influence environmentally friendly behavior without necessarily shifting attitudes. This effect has been subject of academic investigation including a study conducted by Professors John Thogersen and Folke Olander of the Aarhus School of Business (Denmark) examining the relationship between “value priorities” and “environmentally-friendly consumer behavior.
” (Wigder, 2007) As part of this study, Thogersen and Olander examined the impact of recycling on the values and behaviors of Danish consumers over the course of one year. (“Human Values and the Emergence of a Sustainable Consumption Pattern: A Panel Study,” Journal of Economic Psychology, 2002). The results of such investigation reveal several key findings that green marketers should consider: • First, the study reconfirmed that values drive behavior (while the converse relationship was not found to be statistically significant).
While not surprising, this result confirms that marketers face an uphill battle if they are to influence environmentally friendly behavior without first addressing values. • Second, the study found that values are very stable and are difficult to impact in the “short and medium term. ” • Finally, behavior change, the authors concluded, is hindered not only by values but by “behavioral inertia, created by forces [such as established habits] that are independent of – or at least not related in a simple way to – values”. (Dobson, 2007)
Yet significantly for marketers, the study also suggests that for those that already hold environmentally friendly values, environmentally friendly behavior can evolve over time if consumers are provided the opportunity to engage in this behavior. Thogersen and Olander concluded that “when new opportunities for environmentally-friendly behaviour are offered, consumers holding ‘environmentally-friendly values’ adjust their behaviour to be more consistent with their values. ” This finding implies that consumers who hold green values will demonstrate greener behavior if presented with relevant products or services (Wigder, 2007).
Andrew Dobson wrote in an article called The Politics of Global Warming (2007), that in his review of the idea and practice of sustainable consumption, Tim Jackson points out that “the rhetoric of ‘consumer sovereignty’ and ‘hands-off’ governance is inaccurate and unhelpful” (see “Motivating Sustainable Consumption,” SDRN: Briefing 1). This is because consumption decisions take place within a cultural and institutional context which constitute the rules of the game, and which part determine the consumer decisions that people make.
So when the iPod mini comes along hard on the heels of the only marginally larger original iPod, the social and economic context is geared to getting consumers to buy it (Dobson, 2007). In this context, as Jackson went on, “policies based on information and price signals have had only limited success in changing unsustainable behaviors”. Yet these are exactly the policies the government seems determined to pursue – policies that, moreover, contribute to reproducing the pro-individual context that is part cause of our environmental problems. “The dominant cultural model in 21st-century society is individualist”, wrote Tim Jackson.
“But this is only one form of social organization and there is evidence to suggest that it may not be sufficient to address the social complexity of pro-environmental behavioral change. ” But, policy-makers will say, policies based on price signals work with the grain of self-interest and are therefore realistic rather than aspirational as far as models of human motivation are concerned. Wrong. There is a growing body of social-science evidence to suggest that the self-interest model is actually a poor predictor of environmental attitudes and behavior (Dobson, 2007).
For instance, in their survey of 4,000 individuals in four separate counties in Sweden, Simon Matti and Christer Berglund conclude that as far as pro-environment behavior is concerned, “people are guided by other motives and values than the traditional economic rationality of the consumer … they feel a moral obligation to sort waste in order to contribute to a better environment” (see “Citizen and consumer: the dual role of individuals in environmental policy”, Environmental Policies, 15/4, 2006).
More striking still, their research strongly suggests that policies designed to appeal to the individual as consumer rather than as citizen “crowd out”, or reduce, “the sense of moral obligation” in favor of pro-environmental activity. Once again, the preferred form of government policy both reinforces the frames of mind and conduct that contribute to environmental unsustainability and simultaneously undermines the habits and practices that inform much pro-environmental behavior.
This double-whammy is a serious obstacle to dealing with climate change – and indeed with any other problem which requires pro-social responses (Dobson, 2007). The fact that these results were garnered in Sweden may itself be significant. This is because a further piece of social-science research suggests that collectivist, social-welfare societies are a better incubator of pro-environmental behavior than individualist ones where welfare is looked on with suspicion.
“Those who place a high value on the welfare of others and on a collective approach to solving social problems are more likely to be willing to support environmental policies than those who do not”, writes finds Sharon Witherspoon (see “Democracy, the environment and public opinion in Europe”, in W Lafferty & J Meadowcroft, eds. , Democracy and the Environment: problems and prospects (Edward Elgar, 1996). All of this suggests that addressing climate change is both more difficult and easier than the executive summaries swirling across the desks of government ministers and newspaper front-pages portray.
It is more difficult, because the drivers of unsustainable attitudes and behavior are deeper and more structural than supporters of liberal capitalism can afford to believe. Yet it is also easier, because resistance to those drivers is expressed on a daily basis by the actions of tens of millions of citizens around the world as they strive to do the right thing, not for any gain for themselves or fear of fiscal punishment, but because it’s the right thing to do (Dobson, 2007). Governments assume that people don’t behave like that, and design policy accordingly.
Social-science research suggests two things: first, that people do behave like this, and second, that government policy which fails to understand as much will not only be ineffective but – in a move that converts tragedy into farce – will undermine the very motivations for the behavior which it should be encouraging. Conclusion (A Vision for the Future) By the end of the next decade, as surmised by David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, most passenger cars and trucks in the United States could be full of hybrid electric vehicles.
But, it is also clear that this all-new GREEN lifestyle that people are promoting depends a lot on cultural beliefs or tenets (as shown above). Yes, buying habits are changing, public transportation may all become hybrids, the car industry might abandon gasoline engines forever, etc. but hybrid technology, lifestyle changes, and living “green” cannot provide the precise politics that global change needs. It’s reasonable to assert that sound social science is part of the whole puzzle.
R E F E R E N C E S 1. Hybrid Cars. (2006). TechFaq. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from http:// www. tech faq. com/hybrid-cars. shtml 2. Donaldson-Evans, C. (2006, July 10). Gas-electric hybrids just keep going and going. Retrieved April 16, 2007 from http://www. foxnews. com/story/0,2933,202414,00. html 3. Wigder, D. (2007, March 31). How many green marketers does it take to change a light bulb? Retrieved April 16, 2007 from http://marketinggreen. wordpress. com/tag/consumer-behaviors-and-beliefs/ 4.
Dobson, A. (2007, March 29). A politics of global warming: the social-science resource. Retrieved April 16, 2007 from http://www. opendemocracy. net/globalization-climate_change_debate/politics_4486. jsp 5. Friedman, D. (2003). A New Road: the Technology and Potential of Hybrid Vehicles. Massachusetts: UCS Publications. 6. Thogersen, J. and Olander, Folke. (2002). Human Values and the Emergence of a Sustainable Consumption Pattern: A Panel Study. Journal of Economic Psychology, 23 (5), 605-630.