The Negative Effect of Low Belonging on Consumer Responses to Sustainable Products

Journal of Business Ethics:1-20 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Sustainable products are engineered to reduce environmental, ecological, and human costs of consumption. Not all consumers value sustainable products, however, and this poses negative societal implications. Using self-expansion theory as a guide, we explore how an individual’s general sense of belonging—or the perception that one is accepted and valued by others in the broader social world—alters their responses to sustainable products. Five experimental studies and a field study demonstrate that individuals lower in belonging respond less favorably to sustainable products in terms of evaluations and willingness to pay than individuals higher in belonging. Process evidence shows that the extent to which individuals low in belonging perceive that collective, sustainable choices will impact them personally drives this result and that belonging does not impact responses to conventional (i.e., non-sustainable) products. However, perceiving a shared human experience—or that individuals share some important, basic similarities with all people—attenuates the negative effect of low belonging on responses to sustainable products for consumers both low and high in belonging. This research has significant implications for businesses and society given the growing sense of disconnect in modern society.

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