The Sustainability Liability: Potential Negative Effects of Ethicality on Product Preference

Journal of Marketing, Forthcoming

Posted: 12 Jul 2010

See all articles by Michael Luchs

Michael Luchs

William & Mary

Rebecca Walker Reczek

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Marketing and Logistics

Julie R. Irwin

University of Texas - McCombs School of Business

Rajagopal Raghunathan

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business

Date Written: July 12, 2010

Abstract

Manufacturers are increasingly producing and promoting sustainable products (i.e., products that have a positive social and/or environmental impact). However, relatively little is known about how product sustainability impacts consumers’ preferences. We propose that sustainability may not always be an asset, even if most consumers care about social and environmental issues. The degree to which sustainability enhances preference depends on the type of benefit that consumers most value for the product category in question. In our research, we demonstrate that consumers associate higher product ethicality with gentleness-related attributes and lower product ethicality with strength-related attributes. As a consequence of these associations, the positive effect of product sustainability on consumer preferences is reduced when strength-related attributes are valued, sometimes even resulting in preferences for less sustainable product alternatives (i.e., the “sustainability liability”). On the other hand, when gentleness-related attributes are valued, sustainability enhances preference. In addition, we show that the potential negative impact of sustainability on product preferences can be attenuated using explicit cues about product strength.

Keywords: Sustainability, Ethical Products, Green Marketing, Implicit Associations, Corporate Social Responsibility

JEL Classification: D80, D81, D84, M31

Suggested Citation

Luchs, Michael and Reczek, Rebecca Walker and Irwin, Julie R. and Raghunathan, Rajagopal, The Sustainability Liability: Potential Negative Effects of Ethicality on Product Preference (July 12, 2010). Journal of Marketing, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1638941

Michael Luchs (Contact Author)

William & Mary ( email )

P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

HOME PAGE: http://mason.wm.edu/faculty/directory/marketing/luchs_m.php

Rebecca Walker Reczek

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Marketing and Logistics ( email )

2100 Neil Avenue
538 Fisher Hall
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

Julie R. Irwin

University of Texas - McCombs School of Business ( email )

Business,Government and Society Department
Austin, TX 78712
United States

Rajagopal Raghunathan

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States

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