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3 reasons why consumers are fickle when it comes to the environment

Updated: Jan 10

No matter how much some ‘boomers’ may try to convince you otherwise, humans are, indeed, destroying the planet - one perforated sandwich wrap at a time. As a result, conscious consumerism is believed to be on the rise, but is it, really? Before brands jump on the green bandwagon, here’s what they may want to consider.


In South Africa, we have a plastic pollution crisis, but past complaining about it to each other, not much else is being done. According to The Business Live newspaper, the plastic levy that was first introduced to reduce litter and encourage reuse instead turned into a small, but dependable money-spinner for the National Treasury. In fact, the newspaper claims that it brought in R241.3m in 2018, from an initial haul of R41.2m in 2004. Given a levy today of 12c a bag, that implies more than 2-billion plastic bags were sold. 

Despite reusable bags working out to be cheaper in the long-run, at the moment of purchase, South Africans struggle to part with the R5, R10, R25 it costs to purchase one, compared to the 50c of the plastic bag.

So, if you’re expecting shoppers to willingly spend more money in order to help preserve the environment, make room for disappointment. Brands need to consider how going green will affect the overall costing of their product and whether shoppers will see the value in choosing this alternative over a cheaper, less eco-friendly competitor.

Quality Perception

An article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, titled: When Going Green Backfires: How Firm Intentions Shape the Evaluation of Socially Beneficial Product Enhancements, has proven that there is an inverse relationship between the perceived quality or effectiveness of a product and its social responsibility. In fact, through surveying 300 people with an average age of 33, the paper was able to showcase that when a company intends to make a product better for the environment, consumers assume that resources are diverted away from product quality development, thus creating a reluctance to purchase.

The above graph is a visual representation of this consumer perception. The three variables listed are concerned with how the brands communicate the environmental benefits of their products and how this affects the consumer’s purchase intent, perception of product quality and perception of resource allocation.

  1. Unintended - This brand has communicated that the product is eco-friendly through coincidence, rather than intention.

  1. Intended - This brand has communicated that it has gone out of its way to create an eco-friendly product.

  1. Controlled - This brand has not communicated any information regarding the intention of their eco-friendly product. 

These insights inform us that brands need to keep their messaging in mind when releasing their eco-friendly products because shoppers place quality above any environmental responsibility. If you’ve ever had a paper straw dissolve in your frozen matcha latte, surely, you can relate. 


Whether you’re carpooling, recycling or buying local produce only, the fact is, maintaining a lifestyle that is kinder on our planet requires effort, time and sacrifice, something that many people are simply not willing to do. However, a brand that can emphasise how their green product can add more value to the consumer’s life than its non-green competitors, can overcome this hurdle and penetrate the market. The following are examples of this.

Tesla - Although it is an electric car, Tesla has become synonymous with innovation and luxury, making it an aspirational product, in addition to being better for the environment than your average gas-guzzler. The vehicle is also reasonably priced for a sedan of its calibre.

Lush - Their eco-friendly stance is infused with how they market the benefits of their soap products. Their marketing strategy is built on trust and ethics, making their consumer feel that the products are not only safer for the environment, but their bodies as well.

Sip Conscious - Sip Conscious’ range of colourful stainless-steel straws are a great alternative for plastic straws. Reusable, portable and sophisticated, they do not dissolve like paper straws and elevate the look of a drink.

Paul Cluver - With a forest amphitheatre, orchid and pear trees and, of course, amazing vineyards, the family-run winery seamlessly combines sustainability with experience and quality. They use the best eco practices to preserve the biosphere, which forms part of their estate, and the area has also been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This allows visitors to enjoy the scenic environment as well as the delicious wine.

Nude Foods - No plastic packaging, no problem. Nude food offers a unique shopping experience by not having any packaging. Because the store only sells wholesome, raw and non-GMO food, the health benefits offered by this make bringing your own containers worth it.

Environmental responsibility is a property that all brands should consider incorporating into their business one way or another, especially if you consider the strain our planet is already under due to overconsumption. However, it is important to ensure that your product continues to offer the same or more value and communicates this effectively with the shopper, in order to achieve sales targets.


(Newman, George & Gorlin, Margarita & Dhar, Ravi. (2014). When Going Green Backfires: How Firm Intentions Shape the Evaluation of Socially Beneficial Product Enhancements. Journal of Consumer Research. 41. 823-839. 10.1086/677841)


For more insights on key factors that influence shopper behaviour click on this link.

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