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Consumers could have an inflated sense of how eco-friendly they are

Researchers found that consumers are incredibly confident when it comes to their sustainability efforts

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Photo (c) KatarzynaBialasiewicz - Getty Images
As climate change threats continue to loom, consumers have started taking their own measures to lessen their ecological footprints. 

Now, researchers from the University of Gothenburg have found that many consumers could be overly confident when it comes to the steps they’re taking to better the environment. According to a survey, many individuals believe that they’re practicing more sustainable habits than the average consumer. 

“The results point out our tendency to overestimate our own abilities, which is in line with previous studies where most people consider themselves to be more honest, more creative, and better drivers than others,” said researcher Magnus Bergquist. “This study shows that over-optimism, or the ‘better-than-average’ effect, also applies to environmentally friendly behaviours.” 

Understanding consumers’ mindsets

To get a sense of how consumers view their own environmentally friendly behaviors, the researchers conducted a survey of consumers from different parts of the world -- India, England, Sweden, and the United States. 

The survey required participants to report on how often they completed sustainable behaviors, including anything from opting for eco-friendly products or reducing how often they use single-use plastic. 

The researchers learned that the majority of participants rated themselves as above average citizens when it comes to caring for the environment. This was true when the participants ranked themselves against strangers and people they know in their day-to-day lives. 

This could become troubling, as the researchers worry that this overconfidence will lead consumers to scale back on the activities and actions that are benefiting the environment because they think that they’re already doing more than enough. 

Working harder

The researchers say this attitude among consumers is common for more than just environmental efforts. However, it’s important that consumers look honestly at the ways they’re being proactive about sustainability and work to be more encouraging in future efforts. 

“If you think about it logically, the majority cannot be more environmentally friendly than others,” said Bergquist. “One way to change this faulty opinion, is to inform people that others actually behave environmentally friendly, and thereby creating an environmentally friendly norm. Social norms affect us also in this area, we know this from previous studies.”  

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