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It takes a village

Study finds the choices we make as consumers may be guided by community-based principles
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Why do people participate in programs that benefit the environment, even when there seems to be no direct personal benefit in taking part?

The answer may lie in a psychological sense of community with other wind-energy customers, according to a new study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

A ‘sense of shared risk’

The authors interviewed participants in a wind power program in the western United States. The goal was to understand in depth what it meant for them to engage in environmentally friendly or socially conscious consumption.

‘The wind-energy customers we interviewed believed that the planet was at risk from human consumption practices

‘This sense of shared risk translated into a feeling of shared responsibility and an emotional connection to others who were living an environmentally conscious life.’

Marie Hafey DeVincenzo (Francis Marion University) and Debra Scammon (University of Utah), report authors

Human interdependence

As the authors discovered, participants in the program constituted, through their consumer choices, a principle-based community, unified by a belief in the interdependence of human beings when it came to protecting the natural environment.

Participants saw themselves as different from those whom they regarded as less environmentally conscious. Participants also felt a shared emotional connection with each other, and they believe that they are having an influence in the world.

One man reported that, after he ripped out his lawn and replaced it with drought-resistant plants, one of his neighbours soon did the same.

Community-based principles

DeVincenzo and Scammon’s study reveals that the choices people make as consumers may be guided by community-based principles. That insight can be used by policy makers, environmental activists, and marketers to promote behaviours in individuals that benefit society as a whole.

‘A sense of moral responsibility and of belonging to a community can strengthen commitment to individual action that both defines this community, and helps it reach common moral goals.’

Marie Hafey DeVincenzo (Francis Marion University) and Debra Scammon (University of Utah), report authors

Policy makers might provide public recycling containers, for example, as a communal talking point and to increase feelings of community when neighbours see others participating.

Principle Based Consumption Communities: Exploring the Meanings Derived from Socially Conscious Consumption Practices will appear in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

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