Green Consumers Who Value Status Will Pay More For Less

Jun 14, 2011 3:05 PM ET

(3BL Media / theCSRfeed) June 14, 2011 - A new study reveals consumers pay more for green products when they know others witness their purchase. Buying a green product - especially if it possesses inferior attributes - confers status and reputation on the "altruistic" buyer. 

One of the most successful green products, the Toyota Prius, is not luxurious. Yet people buy it—at a price well above non-green cars with comparable specifications—because it “makes a statement” about them (according to a New York Times poll). What motivates consumers to pay more when they’re getting less?

A possible explanation: green products allow consumers to be seen as altruistic. While many green products cost more, perform worse or possess fewer luxury attributes, they’re generally better for society. Throughout history, “giving” behaviour by individuals has been associated with status and reputation. 

Vladas Griskevicius (University of Minnesota), Joshua Tybur (University of New Mexico) and Bram Van den Bergh (Rotterdam School of Management) delve deeper into this explanation. They investigate whether people buy green in pursuit of status through three experiments. 

When status is important, we may buy green products with inferior attributes—especially when they cost more. And we would “go green” more frequently when we know others will see us do it.  

While green products may be less convenient or luxurious, they enable consumers to appear socially-oriented in a visible way. This research suggests the effect doesn’t hold true only for major lifestyle purchases like cars—people exhibited similar behaviour when buying soap.  

While status motives have traditionally been associated with self-interested behaviour, this research suggests they might actually drive environmental behaviour. Marketers can leverage this effect by connecting green products to status, particularly when the products are relatively expensive.  


The Network for Business Sustainability is a not-for-profit organization that connects business leaders and academic experts worldwide to devise new business models for the 21st century. The Network is located at the Richard Ivey School of Business (at The University of Western Ontario) in London, Canada and at the Université du Québec à Montréal. The Network is funded primarily by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, with additional support from industry partners.