Environmental lamp labelling turns off conservatives, says US study

Environmental labelling on energy-efficient products such as CFL lamps can turn off buyers depending on their political persuasion, according to a study by scientists in the US.

The paper, authored by Dena Gromet of the University of Pennsylvania and others, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, concludes that political ideology affects energy-efficiency attitudes and choices. It suggests that few conservatives would buy energy-efficient lamps when they’re labelled as being good for the environment because the issue of carbon emission reductions is so politically polarising in the US.

Gromet and her colleagues queried 657 volunteers to find out whether their opinions on energy-efficient products were split along a political divide. Respondents were asked to choose between lower efficiency and higher efficiency lamp options. Efficient bulbs were offered and labelled with a ‘protect the environment’ sticker in some cases. Political divisions appeared in purchasing choices – but not until price became an issue. 

‘People recognise the greater economic value of the bulb when there isn’t a higher upfront cost,’ Gromet said. But when the study represented retail realities, that more efficient options carry a higher price tag, fewer conservatives were willing to pay the extra cash for bulbs labelled as good for the environment.

Jacquelyn Ottman, a marketing consultant specialising in sustainability, said that green offerings still battle stereotypes from decades ago, when many were viewed by some as ‘alternative’ products that didn’t really work. And, according to National Geographic, some recent market research suggests that a different factor might be at work. Consumer dislike for CFLs may be a far greater problem than price or messaging, it says, noting that sales of LED lighting products ‘are growing rapidly, even though this high-efficiency choice is more costly than CFLs’. Gromet’s study did not test attitudes on LEDs.

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