Shopping to Save the Planet? Implicit Rather than Explicit Attitudes Predict Low Carbon Footprint Consumer Choice

By Geoffrey Beattie and Laura Sale.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Climate change is upon us and requires urgent action. This has led to carbon footprint information appearing on products. But are consumers primed to change their behaviour? What is their fundamental attitude to low carbon products? And what attitudes might predict actual consumer behaviour? This study found that whilst most participants were pro-low carbon on both the explicit and implicit measures, the explicit and implicit scores did not themselves correlate. In addition, a number of participants scored significantly more positively on explicit than implicit measures, reflecting the social desirability of being seen as green. Neither of the explicit measures significantly differentiated the choice of high/low carbon products but the implicit measure did. Furthermore, it appears that when under time pressure, people seem to rely on their underlying implicit attitude to guide their consumer choices. Thus, it could be argued that if we are to genuinely engineer a green revolution, then we must augment these implicit attitudes and ensure that they translate to actual behaviour, for example, by designing carbon footprint ‘signals’ aimed primarily at the implicit system.

Keywords: Implicit Attitudes, Explicit Attitudes, Carbon Footprint, Carbon Labelling, Sustainability

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.211-232. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.007MB).

Prof. Geoffrey Beattie

Professor, School of Psychological Sciences and Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Geoffrey Beattie is Professor of Psychology and Head of the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester. He is also a Professorial Research Fellow of the Sustainable Consumption Institute recently established at the University. He obtained his PhD in Psychology from the University of Cambridge (Trinity College) and he is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS). He was awarded the Spearman Medal by the BPS for “published psychological research of outstanding merit”. In 2005 Geoffrey was President of the Psychology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He has published 17 books many of which have either won or been short-listed for major international or national prizes and he has published more than a hundred academic articles in journals like Nature, Semiotica, the British Journal of Psychology and the Journal of Language and Social Psychology.

Laura Sale

Research Assistant, School of Psychological Sciences, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Laura Sale is a Research Assistant in the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester and is part of a research team at the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI) established at the University of Manchester, and sponsored by Tesco. Laura is currently working with Professor Geoffrey Beattie under the Sustainable Consumer Behaviours and Lifestyles theme at the SCI with a particular focus on implicit and explicit attitudes in the context of sustainable consumption. This research aims to generate new insights into the psychological variables underpinning low carbon footprint choices and offer specific recommendations on how these core psychological variables can be targeted in order to increase the salience of carbon footprint information in the consumer environment.


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