The Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Application to Pro-environmental
Grocery Shopping Behaviors
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the
Requirements for the degree of
Master of Science
University of Washington
Stanley Asah, Thesis Advisor
Program Authorized to Offer Degree:
Environmental and Forest Sciences
Note only, please reference to source
(1 Okt 2014)
University of Washington
The Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Application to Pro-environmental Grocery Shopping Behaviors
Chair of the Advisory Committee:
Assistant Professor Stanley Asah
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Unsustainable food systems in the United States warrant adjusting food consumption behaviors to help mitigate negative environmental impacts. To effectively influence pro-environmental (‘green’) consumption behaviors, it is necessary to first understand purchasing behaviors.
Existing research suggests that social normative influence is an important component in encouraging pro-environmental behavior. The Focus Theory of Normative Conduct provides insight as to the effectiveness of social normative influence. The importance of norm salience in affecting behavioral change is central to the focus theory of normative conduct; injunctive and descriptive norms affect behavior in a variety of contexts, but only if they are salient. The purpose of the present research is to identify which components of grocery shopping behaviors are perceived as important in lowering environmental impact and to determine what factors contribute to consumers’ purchasing behaviors with regard to ‘green’ grocery products. In this study I investigated the role of social norms and motivations in influencing ‘green’ grocery purchasing choices. I sought to further the experimental findings of the focus theory of normative conduct by identifying the most influential, and thus most salient, norms in an applied setting. I interviewed consumers, asking respondents which behaviors are most important in the context of ‘green’ consumption behavior. I used data from these interviews to construct a survey that contained questions about grocery shopping behavior, motivational factors, and descriptive and injunctive social norms. The survey was administered to customers at selected grocery stores in Washington State. Results indicate that social norms account for a significant amount of green grocery shopping behavior. Specifically, personal injunctive normative influence was a highly significant predictor of ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior. Social injunctive norms were also significant, but the effect was less pervasive throughout the various ‘green’ constructs.
Descriptive normative influence was not a significant predictor. The results indicate that injunctive norms are salient in a ‘green’ grocery shopping setting, while descriptive norms do not appear to be salient in this particular situation. Motivational factors (e.g., taste) were also salient predictors of ‘green’ purchasing behaviors. These results emphasize the importance of social norms in the context of ‘green’ consumption behavior. I offer suggestions for ways to use motivations and social normative influence in social marketing campaigns to increase ‘green’ consumption behaviors and thereby lessen the environmental impact of food systems.
Am extremely grateful to the many people who helped to make this research possible. I would like to thank all the participants who took part in the interviews and surveys that I conducted for his research, as well as the local grocery stores who allowed me to talk to customers.
At the University of Washington, I would first like to thank my advisor Dr. Stanley Asah, who guided and supported me as I designed and carried out my research project. He challenged me to become a better researcher, helped me to identify my own strengths and limitations, and provided me with encouragement along the way. I would also like to thank Dr. Sergey Rabotyagov at the University of Washington and Dr. Dale Blahna at the US Forest Service. As my committee members, they provided valuable feedback from economic and sociological perspectives. I am greatly appreciative of the time and effort they committed to reading and reviewing my written work, as well as the input they provided as I conducted my study.
I would also like to thank my fellow students in the social sciences office, who provided a welcoming and fun environment and a sense of camaraderie that was extremely valuable during the past two years. In particular, I would like to thank Yu-Chi (Kelly) Huang and my lab-mates Miku Lenentine, Hanna Lee, and Caitlin Singer.
Finally, I owe endless thanks to my wonderful family who has provided me with unconditional support throughout all of my endeavors, educational and otherwise. Lisa Weir, Joel Wilks, Ed Frohning, Loren Frohning, Jan Weir, and Bob Weir, your love and support have been essential to my success and development as both a researcher and an individual. I could not have accomplished any of this without you.
1.1 Focus Theory of Normative Conduct
Activation of social norms can be a powerful tool in promoting environmentally beneficial behavior (Cialdini, 2003).
The focus theory of normative conduct emphasizes the importance of social normative influence in affecting behavior. A major component of the theory is the distinction between Injunctive and Descriptive social norms. Injunctive norms specify what is typically approved of, and therefore what ‘ought’ to be done. Descriptive norms refer to what people actually do, and consequently provide information as to what is typical or normal behavior (Kallgren, Reno & Cialdini, 2000). Both types of norms influence behavior, but do not do so in all situations. A primary tenet of the focus theory of normative conduct is the importance of norm salience in affecting behavior. Norms are in play primarily when they are salient, and people will act in ways that are consistent with socially acceptable behavior only when their attention is focused on the behavior that is occurring or that is commonly accepted (Cialdini, Reno & Kallgren, 1990). When considering ways to affect behavior change through normative influence, the issue of norm salience is critical. No matter how pervasive a norm is, it is unlikely that it will affect behavior if the norm is not salient.
Experimental studies have shed light on people’s behavior in controlled settings, but there has been little exploration into the relative influence of the various types of norms on pro-environmental behavior (PEB). Despite the findings of Cialdini (2003) and Kallgren and colleagues (2000), most studies have focused on only one type of norm at a time. There is a need for studies that examine the differential influences, and thus saliency, of norms in particular applied settings. People often cite reasons other than norms for their decision to engage in ‘green’ consumption behaviors (Makatouni, 2002; Zanoli & Naspetti, 2002), so I also wanted to explore how consumers’ stated motivations compare to norms in influencing ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior. Therefore, I conducted this study to verify the relative influence of different types of norms on ‘green’ purchasing behavior and to examine how normative influence compares to that of other motivations. Finally, I included analysis of demographic variables because previous research indicates that demographic variables, particularly political ideology and income, predict ‘green’ purchasing behavior (Gilg, Barr & Ford, 2005).
Research into the focus theory of normative conduct has yet to explore which norms are most salient in applied settings. Most studies focus on only one norm and do not compare the influence of different norm types on the same behavior. This constitutes a large gap with regard to the applicability of the focus theory of normative conduct in ‘green’ consumption settings. As such, it is important to identify which norms are most salient in an uncontrolled setting. Research by Cialdini (1990) indicates that whichever norm is most salient then becomes more influential.
Presumably, then, whichever norm is more influential is more salient. I sought to address the gap between experimental findings and applications in the present study. Furthermore, there has been very limited research as to the relevance of the focus theory of normative conduct in the context of ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior. I explored whether and to what extent social norms influence behavior in a non-experimental grocery shopping setting. I offer ideas for future research and recommendations for ways the findings can be used in conservation efforts related to ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior.
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Pro-Environmental (‘Green’) Grocery Shopping
Human behavior plays a critical role in the current rate of environmental degradation (Arrow et al., 1995; Jorgenson, 2003; Tilman & Lehman, 2001; Wang, Qian, Cheng & Lai, 2000). A large part of this comes from individual consumer choices (González, Frostell & Carlsson-Kanyama, 2011). A key question is how to promote ‘green’ grocery purchases through decreased consumption of environmentally detrimental products and adjust grocery shoppers’ behavior toward making purchasing choices that have a low environmental impact. A large portion of what we consume is food and this study focuses on consumer purchasing behaviors in grocery shopping settings.
‘Green’ buying or ‘green’ grocery shopping refers to purchasing products that are environmentally beneficial (or not environmentally harmful) (Mainieri, Barnett, Valdero, Unipan & Oskamp, 1997). For the purposes of this research, I focus on behaviors that are perceived to be ‘green’ and are marketed as such. The ‘green’ grocery shopping behaviors of particular interest for this research are purchase of food products that are organic, raised or grown locally, not genetically modified, and free of hormones and antibiotics. These actions can have a significant environmental impact, do not require major lifestyle changes to perform, and yet are not widespread (Kalafatis et al., 1999). Together, these behaviors deal with issues that are critical with regard to preventing environmental damage due to conventional agricultural processes.
Problems associated with conventional agriculture include contamination from agricultural chemicals (Pimentel & Edwards, 1982; Rabalais et al., 2002), pollution from transportation (Kanyama & González, 2009), and food contamination and antibiotic resistance (Schafer et al., 2007). Given their wide-ranging nature, the above-mentioned ‘green’ grocery shopping behaviors compose a comprehensive assessment of ‘green’ consumption.
There exists some degree of ‘green’ grocery purchasing among consumers, and when asked why they engage in these behaviors, individuals rate environmental protection, societal benefits, taste, and saving money as the most salient motivators (Nolan et al., 2008; Soil Association, 2003). Such findings appear to support the view that education about environmental issues and promotion of environmental concern are the best avenues for increasing green grocery purchasing. However, research suggests that a desire to save the environment does not, in and of itself, act as a significant motivator of green grocery purchasing (Mainieri et al., 1997). This holds true even for those who believe that their primary motivation for conservation is environmental concern (Nolan et al., 2008). Despite large-scale campaigns aimed at increasing awareness and concern, a widespread increase in ‘green’ grocery purchasing among grocery shoppers has yet to occur (Kalafatis et al., 1999). This raises the question as to what factors will be most effective in influencing green grocery purchasing and, consequently, consumption behaviors.
2.2 Social Norms
Before laws and regulation, compliance with socially acceptable behavior was enforced through threat of rejection from society (Triandis, 1994). Social norms continue to be an important part of societal function, even when laws and regulations are in place (Posner, 1997).
In fact, social norms often act independently of the legal system, and consequences for deviating from social norms come from individuals’ social networks rather than the legal system (Cialdini & Trost, 1998).
As mentioned above, two types of norms have been shown to influence environmentally significant behaviors. Descriptive norms involve individuals’ perceptions of what behaviors are typically being performed and give an indication of which behaviors are ‘normal’. Injunctive norms refer to beliefs about what behaviors are socially approved of, or what “ought” to be done (Cialdini et al., 1990; Kallgren et al., 2000). There is a personal aspect to injunctive norms, as well as a social component. Personal injunctive norms, also called moral norms, are related to feelings of moral obligation and deal with personal beliefs about right and wrong (Dean, Raats & Shepherd, 2008). Social injunctive norms refer to the rules and expectations that come from friends and family members, as well as other members of society (Lee, Geisner, Lewis, Neighbors & Larimer, 2008).
Kilty’s (1978) findings provide support for the influence of injunctive norms in a study designed to test the role of social norms on drinking behavior. Kilty measured behavioral intentions, self-reported drinking behavior, and attitudes toward drinking. Normative measures included 4 types of normative expectations – personal, family, friends, and religion. In all groups studied, behavioral intentions or self-reported drinking behavior could be predicted by normative measures. Accurate predictions were most strongly based on personal injunctive normative beliefs.
Henry and others (2000) investigated the influence of normative beliefs about aggression on aggressive behaviors in elementary school classrooms. They found that direct and indirect injunctive personal norms were significant predictors of aggression. In older children injunctive norms affected beliefs and aggressive behavior, while in young children beliefs alone were predicted by injunctive norms. Classroom-level rejection of aggression was strongly positively associated with decreased individual aggression, further illustrating the influence of injunctive norms. Descriptive norms, however, were not found to be significant in this study. Both of the above studies provide evidence for the strength of injunctive norms in affecting behavior.
There is evidence that both personal and social injunctive norms are important components in influencing environmentally significant behavior among consumers. Previous research indicates that personal injunctive norms influence behavioral commitment to environmental protection, as well as beliefs about the role of industry in environmental protection (Stern, Dietz & Black, 1986). Schultz and colleagues (2007) identified the importance of social injunctive norms in the context of home energy use. People gravitate towards the descriptive norm (what others are doing), even if doing so entails increasing energy use. There is an overall tendency for people to avoid deviating from what others are doing. However, in the case of home energy use, Schultz et al (2007) found that invoking social injunctive norms that emphasize social expectations to reduce energy use resulted in a decreased likelihood that participants would increase their energy use. This was the case even when decreasing energy use moved consumers further away from the norm of what other participants were doing.
There is also evidence that personal norms are a significant factor in consumers’ choices to purchase ‘green’ products (Dean et al., 2008). Dean and colleagues analyzed the influence of personal injunctive norms alone and found that personal injunctive norms influenced consumers’ decisions to purchase ‘green’ products. However, none of the researchers mentioned above explored the effects of both personal and social injunctive norms on a single behavior. It is important to explore the roles of personal and social norms separately, as the influence of each may be discrepant. I addressed this issue by examining both personal and social injunctive normative influence in the context of ‘green’ grocery shopping, so as to gain a greater understanding of injunctive normative influence. Additionally, the ‘green’ products in the grocery study by Dean and colleagues were limited to organic foods, specifically apples and pizza. Organic foods are an important component of ‘green’ green grocery consumption, but purchasing of organic foods does not represent the entirety of ‘green’ grocery purchasing. It is important to determine, as I do in the present research, which other behaviors are considered ‘green’ and to what degree social normative influence applies to those behaviors.
Descriptive norms motivate behavior by providing evidence as to what actions are likely to be effective in a given situation (Cialdini, 1990). The results of the studies discussed above did not indicate any significant influence of descriptive norms on behavior. However, there is evidence that descriptive social norms play an influential role in increasing PEB for some types of environmentally significant behavior, such as reuse of hotel towels (Goldstein, Cialdini, & Griskevicius, 2008) and home energy use (Nolan et al., 2008).
The role of descriptive norms in influencing behavior was explored by Cialdini, Reno, and Kallgren (1990) in a study of littering behavior. In the study, subjects unaware of the study walked into a parking lot that was either clean (antilittering norm) or littered (littering norm).
Subjects littered significantly more in a littered than in a clean parking lot and when they observed another person litter in the parking lot. In addition, there was an increased likelihood of littering when there were more pieces of litter in the parking lot. This study offers strong support for the role of descriptive norms in affecting behavior, as the presence or absence of litter, as well as the presence or absence of another litterer, provided a strong descriptive norm as to what other people were doing in a similar situation to that of the study subject. The study also offers strong implications with regard to the importance of norm salience in affecting behavior. A clean parking lot made salient the social injunctive norm of not littering, which overshadowed the descriptive norm for littering that was demonstrated by the littering researcher.
Goldstein and others (2008) investigated the relationship between descriptive normative influence and conservation behavior among hotel patrons. In an attempt to increase towel reuse and thereby decrease water and energy consumption, hotels place signs in rooms to encourage reuse of towels. The researchers in this study placed one of two signs in each room. One sign encouraged people to “help save the environment” by reusing towels. The other asked people to “join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment” and stated that 75% of other hotel patrons reuse their towels (descriptive norm condition). Analysis of rates of participation in the towel reuse program showed a significantly higher rate of reuse in the descriptive norm condition, providing another strong piece of evidence in support of the influence of norms.
There is also evidence that descriptive norms are effective in decreasing energy consumption. Nolan and others (2008) found that descriptive social norms were the biggest determinant in motivating consumers to decrease energy use, despite the fact that consumers cited the behavior of others as the least influential factor in their choice to use less energy. It appears that people were either unaware of the influence of the behavior of others on their own behavior or were not willing to admit that they performed a behavior simply because others were doing so. A large part of this may be due to the fact that people are often reluctant to admit that they are performing an activity primarily because others perform that activity. However, there is evidence that people follow the lead of others even if they are not aware that they are doing so (Pronin, Berger & Molouki, 2007). The theory of introspection illusion provides some insight as to potential causes for this behavioral tendency.
Introspection illusion refers to the tendency of individuals to focus on internal information at the expense of behavioral information in making self-assessments, but not other-assessments (Pronin et al., 2007). Introspection illusion is a manifestation of the fundamental attribution error, in which people overlook situational influences (e.g., social norms) on their behavior and believe instead that they acted based on their own internal states (Woodside, 2006).
One example, cited by Pronin and others (2007), centers on a person’s justification for purchasing a barbeque that is popular in their neighborhood. According to introspection illusion, the purchaser would likely cite internal information (e.g., interest in high Consumer Report ratings) as justification for the purchase of that particular grill, and would deny that the behavior of neighbors influenced the purchasing decision. In the present study, I explore consumers’ stated reasoning for engaging in ‘green’ behavior, as well as the influence of social norms in attempt to gain insight into the role of introspection illusion in the context of ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior.
Induction of social norms has also been successful in efforts to promote smoking cessation (Zhang, Cowling & Tang, 2011) and is shown to have a significant effect on gambling (Larimer & Neighbors, 2003) and prejudicial behavior (Crandall, Eshleman & O’Brien, 2002).
Given that social norms have been shown to influence behavior a vast array of different contexts, it is reasonable to expect that social norms could have a strong effect on green grocery purchasing behavior as well. Based on the widespread influence of social norms in varying situations, it is likely that grocery shoppers will change their purchasing behavior to conform to what they believe the majority of other people are doing, regardless of personal level of environmental concern or knowledge about conservation.
The findings discussed above emphasize the powerful influence of social norms and indicate the potentially significant role that social norms could play in pro-environmental grocery purchasing behavior as well. However, most of the previously mentioned studies have looked at the influence of one norm individually or at social norms as a whole. Previous research has provided very limited analysis as to which norm has the most influence over performance of a single behavior. Additionally, research exploring the effects of social normative influence on ‘green’ purchasing behavior is very limited. The present study, which addresses the role of personal injunctive, social injunctive and descriptive norms in the context of ‘green’ grocery purchasing, constitutes an important addition to the existing social normative influence literature.
Research by Cialdini and colleagues (1990) and Kallgren and others (2000) illustrate the difference between descriptive and injunctive norms both in terms of the mechanisms through which the norms are invoked and the differing effects on behavior. In the present study I investigate the relative influence of both injunctive and descriptive norms on grocery shoppers’ ‘green’ purchasing behavior through survey methods and extensive statistical analysis to explore motivations and parse out correlations between the behavior of participants and that of important others. In addition, I explored both personal and social injunctive norms in relation to consumption behavior. These dimensions have not yet been explored comparatively, and it is likely that the distinction between the two types of injunctive norms is an important one.
Beyond the role of social norms, there are other factors that motivate consumers to perform environmentally significant behavior. Individual and social values that revolve around health are often found to be influential motivating factors for purchasing and consuming ‘green’ foods (Makatouni, 2002; Zanoli & Naspetti, 2002). Environmental concerns, animal welfare, and food enjoyment are also important factors (Makatouni, 2002; Zanoli & Naspetti, 2002).
Consumers may also be motivated to purchase ‘green’ products as an ego-defense and enhancement mechanism. Ego defense and enhancement refers to strategies that individuals use in order to maintain self-image and cope with anxiety and/or social sanctions associated with particular behaviors (Markin, 1979; Valiant, 1992; “Defense Mechanisms”, n.d.). There is evidence that consumers sometimes purchase products that provide ego support or enhancement by way of supporting a particular self-image (Woods, 1960). In a grocery shopping setting, consumers who are concerned about their environmental or social impact may purchase ‘green’ products as a way to maintain their self-image or relieve themselves of any guilt they feel.
Questions were included in the present study which addressed the potential motivational impact of ego-defense and enhancement on ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior.
There is evidence, however, that consumers’ expressed reasons for engaging in pro-environmental behaviors may not be the primary reason that they engage in those behaviors. This relates to introspection illusion (discussed above), which refers to a general tendency to fail to recognize outside influences on one’s own behavior (Pronin, Gilovich & Ross, 2004). This phenomenon often makes people unable to accurately justify their behaviors. Social norms, in particular, may play a more prominent role in influencing individuals’ behavior than consumers realize (Sherif, 1937). As such, it is of interest to further explore the relationship between reported motivations, social normative influence, and ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior, which I do in the present study.
There has been limited focus on purchasing behavior specifically related to grocery shopping, leading to a dearth of information concerning the effects of social norms and motivations on pro-environmental behavior among consumers. To contribute to filling this gap, I investigated factors that affect consumers’ engagement in green grocery purchasing behavior.
Specifically, I explored the role of social normative influence and motivations in the context of ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior.
2.4 Research Questions and Objectives
My main goal in conducting this study was to explore the factors that influence ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior among consumers. Of particular interest are the roles of social norms and motivations in encouraging green grocery purchasing behavior. The following questions are of specific interest in this study: How well do social norms predict grocery shoppers’ decisions to purchase and consume ‘green’ food products?
O Do personal injunctive, social injunctive and descriptive norms uniquely predict ‘green’ grocery purchasing behaviors? What factors motivate grocery shoppers to purchase ‘green’ grocery products?
O How does the influence of other motivations compare to that of norms? What are the implications of the answers to the above questions with regard to efforts to encourage ‘green’ consumption behavior?
I used interviews and questionnaires, followed by various analyses, to address my research questions. I began by conducting interviews with a convenience sample of the general public in order to develop questionnaires to test the ability of social norms and motivations to predict ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior. Following completion and analysis of interviews, I developed a questionnaire to address the research questions.
Data analysis, described in detail below, was performed to analyze relationships between social normative influence, motivations, and ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior. I used principal components analysis to reduce the data sets and assess participants’ conceptualization of ‘green’ behavior and social normative influence. Whether and to what extent norms and motivations predict ‘green’ grocery behavior was tested in a regression model. A second regression model was run to test whether and to what extent social injunctive, personal injunctive and descriptive norms predict ‘green’ grocery behavior. Finally, a third regression model tested whether and to what extent the components of motivations predict ‘green’ grocery behavior.
In the spring of 2011 I conducted exploratory interviews with a convenience sample of individuals who shop for groceries (n=10). The primary function of these interviews was to understand grocery shoppers’ construction of green grocery consumption and to use that construct to develop a scale for measuring ‘green’ grocery consumption. There is not a standardized scale for measuring ‘green’ grocery consumption, so input from grocery shoppers was critical. In these interviews, I inquired about what participants believed to be the most important green consumption behaviors, as well how they themselves define ‘green’ consumption. I also asked participants what types of grocery products they considered to be ‘green’, what factors encourage them to purchase ‘green’ grocery products (motivations), and whether other people in their life engage in ‘green’ consumption (social norms).
I used Likert scales to measure behavior frequency, motivations, and social norms. I focused on behaviors related to the purchase of different types of groceries that are considered ‘green’ or not ‘green’, including fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, dairy, eggs, grains, and commodity items (chocolate, coffee, and tea). While analyzing interview data it became clear that separate scales were necessary for the purchase of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, dairy, eggs, grains, and commodity items. This is important because the types of grocery products people buy is a major outcome variable with regard to ‘green’ grocery shopping. I also included questions regarding demographic variables (race/ethnicity, age, income, education, and gender).
See Appendix A for a copy of the survey instrument.
Green Consumption Scale
The scales for fruits, vegetables, and grains each include questions about the frequency with which respondents purchase fruits, vegetables, and grains that are local, organic, and not genetically modified. The scale for dairy includes questions about the frequency with which respondents purchase dairy products that are local, organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and BST-free. Questions for the egg scale are the same as those for the dairy scale with the addition of questions about the purchase of eggs from hens that were certified humane raised and handled,
The social norms scale contained questions about what the participants’ friends, family members, and neighbors do, as well as their own normative values about ‘green’ purchasing.
Distinct questions were developed to measure the influence of social and personal injunctive norms and descriptive norms. The questions were adapted from survey instruments used by Tanner and Kast (2003), Dietz and colleagues (1986), and Rimal and Real (2005). They were adjusted to apply to ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior. There were 21 items in the social norms scale, all of which were retained following reliability analysis and 16 of which were retained following factor analysis. The response options included a five-point response scale ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”)-to-5 (“strongly agree”).
5.1 Principal Components
Because there were not any existing scales to measure ‘green’ grocery shopping, it was essential to understand how consumers structure ‘green’ consumption. I designed a scale based on commonly accepted ideas of ‘green’ products, according to consumers who were interviewed for this study. Principle components analysis was necessary to ensure that my conceptualization was consistent with that of consumers. PCA confirmed the groupings and clarified which factors were most strongly indicated in ‘green’ grocery shopping. This finding is important in the context of ‘green’ consumption research because it indicates that the behaviors cited by interviewees, and that I subsequently organized into scales, are consistent with groupings that are designated by the large sample of grocery shoppers who responded in this study. The consistency with which the ‘green’ components were factored indicates that the grouping of components may be widespread and is thus likely to be an accurate representation of the constructs. As such, application of the ‘green’ factors used in this study would be appropriate for future research into ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior.
The literature regarding the effects of normative influence on behavior is more prevalent than that on ‘green’ grocery purchasing, so there was a stronger theoretical framework from which to construct scales to measure normative influence for this study. Even so, social norms had not been explored in the context of ‘green’ grocery shopping, so PCA was helpful in clarifying distinctions between the factors. It was important to see that participants grouped the normative factors into clear categories representing personal injunctive, social injunctive and descriptive norms. Previous research into normative influence utilized categorical groupings based on researchers’ conceptualizations of which behaviors fit the appropriate injunctive or descriptive normative categories (Kallgren et al., 2000). It is important to notice that the finding from the existing literature on experimental explorations of norms was replicated in this study of self-reported behavior in an applied setting. Respondents’ norm categorization was consistent with the theoretical categorization. The results of the PCA in the present study show that, at lea in the context of ‘green’ purchasing behavior, consumers group normative constructs in a way that is consistent with the existing theoretical framework for norm categorization.
5.2 Social Norms
The results confirmed that both personal and social injunctive norms predict ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior. The findings are consistent with previous research indicating that injunctive norms affect environmentally significant behavior (Dean, et al., 2008; Thøgersen, 1999; Schultz et al., 2007; Stern et al., 1986). Personal injunctive norms refer to an individual’s belief that acting in a particular way is right or wrong (Bamberg, Hunecke & Blöbaum, 2007; Dean et al., 2008). Social injunctive norms refer to an individual’s perception of what others believe is right or wrong (Lee et al., 2008). The present study extends the applications of injunctive norms with the finding that personal injunctive norms and social injunctive norms each uniquely predict ‘green’ purchasing behavior.
The findings of the present research are unique in that they illustrate the distinct predictive power of personal and social injunctive norms when applied to a single set of behaviors in a particular setting. The difference between these two subcategories of injunctive norms has likely implications for strategies to promote ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior. In the current study I explored the role of personal and social injunctive norms and found that the two norm types appear to have a significantly different predictive power with regard to ‘green’ consumer behavior.
Personal injunctive norms had the strongest and most consistent influence on ‘green’ consumer behavior. This makes sense, given the strong predictive power of environmental concern as a motivation for ‘green’ behavior. This implies that those who place a high value on environmental concern likely have a strong personal norm to engage in behavior that is consistent with that concern (in this case, ‘green’ behavior). The findings are consistent with the focus theory of normative conduct and offer insight into ways the focus theory can be utilized in applied settings. Given that personal injunctive norms were the most significant predictors of ‘green’ consumption behavior, it follows that they were also the most salient in this setting.
Personal injunctive norms may have been activated by the presence of ‘green’ food products or, in the case of PCC and Whole Foods customers, by the act of shopping in a store that specialized in selling ‘green’ products.
The results also make sense in the context of the study design. Respondents were asked about theirs and others beliefs and behaviors. It follows that their own beliefs and behaviors would be the most salient and accessible and therefore the most likely to be reported.
The results of regressions conducted on each factor of ‘green’ grocery purchasing were consistent with the results of regressions conducted on the composite score of ‘green’ grocery purchasing. Personal injunctive norms, in particular, were highly significant throughout the various factors representing ‘green’ consumption. Social injunctive norms were also significant predictors of ‘green’ behavior, but the relationship was not as strong or as pervasive throughout the various factors representing ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior. This reflects the pervasiveness of injunctive normative influence as a predictor of ‘green’ consumer behavior throughout multiple dimensions of the construct.
Descriptive normative influence was not a significant predictor of ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior. Based on existing literature, descriptive norms appear to influence environmentally significant behavior in various domains; including littering (Cialdini et al., 1990) and home energy use (Nolan, 2008). Based on previous findings, I expected descriptive norms to be a significant predictor of ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior. There are some possible explanations for why this was not the case. First, the results indicating a significant effect of descriptive norms on PEB were based on findings from experimental data, while the present study was conducted in an applied setting. This concept has important implications when utilizing the focus theory of normative conduct in applied settings.
According to the focus theory of normative conduct, norms influence behavior only when they are salient (Cialdini et al., 1990). In the littering and energy use studies mentioned above, subjects’ attention was directed to descriptive normative messages (behavioral or written messages) to ensure that the norm was salient. These studies are highly valuable in the context of isolating the effects of norm salience on behavior. Through the findings of these studies, we have been made aware that whichever norm is more salient (descriptive or injunctive) is more influential. It can then be inferred that the reverse is also true: whichever norm is more influential is also more salient. The present research furthers the applications of the focus theory of normative conduct by utilizing the findings to identify which norms are more influential, and thus more salient, when applied to settings that are not experimentally controlled. Accordingly, descriptive norms do not appear to be salient in a ‘green’ grocery shopping context, as descriptive normative influence was not predictive of ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior. Due to the fact that descriptive norms are not salient in this setting, social marketing efforts could be better spent focusing on messages that target injunctive normative influence.
It may also be the case that the predictive power of descriptive norms was not apparent due to the way the questions were asked. Descriptive norms may be better tested in studies where behavior of others is visible rather than asking about the behavior of others in previous instances.
Due to recall error, in which people tend to inaccurately recall information from previous situations (Wright & Pescosolido, 2002), it may be difficult for respondents to remember what others did at the grocery store and to what extent that influenced their own behavior.
Consequently, perceived influence may be strongest in the moment for descriptive normative influence. While consumers are often aware of what ‘should’ be done (injunctive norms), descriptive norms may be salient only when they are observed. Respondents were asked to report on the past behavior of others, and that information may not be retained very well.
Alternatively, grocery shoppers may be more strongly influenced by the behavior of other shoppers than by the behavior of friends, family, and neighbors. Participants in this study were only asked about the behavior of friends, family, and neighbors, and not about the actions of other shoppers in the same store. It is the case with many products that ‘green-ness’ is visible only based on stickers and in-store labeling. Once the products are brought home, it is difficult to discern the difference between ‘green’ and conventional products. Consequently, shoppers may be influenced more by actions that take place in-store, as the behavior of others and their own behaviors are more visible and obvious and therefore more likely to conform to the requirements of descriptive normative influence.
Finally, it may be the case that descriptive norms are simply not influential in the realm of ‘green’ grocery shopping behavior. This could be because the behavior of others is not salient among consumers. Overall, it appears that descriptive norms simply weren’t salient in this situation. Previous research into the focus theory was experimental, and the descriptive norm was made obvious/salient. In practice, the saliency may be quite different, as evidenced by the results of this research into applications of the focus theory. It is also possible that ‘green’ grocery shopping is not yet subject to the social sanctions associated with social normative behavior. ‘Green’ grocery shopping is still a relatively new concept and descriptive norms therefore may not yet be influential in a ‘green’ consumption context.
The findings regarding motivations have implications for allocation of resources and optimization of behavior-change techniques. Motivations had an overall positive predictive relationship with ‘green’ consumption behavior. However, motivations were not as strong of a predictor as social norms, indicating that consumers’ behavior may be influenced more strongly by social norms than by their own reported motivations.
Consistent with findings from previous research (Blend & Ravenswaay, 1999; Chan, 1996), environmental concern was a strong predictor of ‘green’ consumer behavior. This is a logical finding, given that consumers will often act in accord with their strongest values (Shaw & Shiu, 2003). As such, and given the results of this study, it may be valuable to emphasize the “green-ness” of certain items. This would provide consumers with a clear knowledge of which products align with their values. At the same time, it will be important to target those individuals who do not have a strong sense of environmental concern. Quality of ‘green’ items was also a significant predictor of ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior. This is an important finding and indicates that consumers express an interest in ‘green’ products based on factors other than environmental concern. Implied is the idea that consumers who do not possess a strong degree of environmental concern may still be inclined to purchase ‘green’ items.
5.4 Demographic Variables
Current agricultural practices contribute to environmental degradation through pollution, deforestation, and marine and terrestrial ecosystem destruction. Consumers, though often aware of environmental problems, generally do not take the necessary actions to prevent further harm.
The focus theory of normative conduct offers insight into ways in which social norms can promote pro-environmental behavior. However, there exists limited research into the role of the focus theory in an applied ‘green’ consumption setting. Previous studies have also failed to examine social injunctive, personal injunctive and descriptive norms in tandem. The present research fills that gap, contributing to the understanding of normative influence and the comparative salience of personal, social, and descriptive norms in a ‘green’ grocery consumption setting. The objectives of this study were to examine the relative influence of various norms on ‘green’ grocery purchasing behavior and to explore how the influence of norms compares to that of other motivations.
Results implicate injunctive norms as being highly significant predictors of ‘green’ consumption behavior, with personal norms being the strongest predictor. Social injunctive norms were also significant, while descriptive normative influence was not a significant predictor of ‘green’ consumption behavior. The present study extends the applications of previous social norm research with the finding that personal and social injunctive norms uniquely predict ‘green’ purchasing behavior. The predictive power of injunctive norms indicates that, at least in a ‘green’ grocery purchasing setting, those norms were salient. On the contrary, descriptive norms were not predictive and thus appear not to be salient in this particular setting.
Motivations were predictive of ‘green’ behavior as well, though the predictive power was not as strong as that of social norms. In particular, environmental concern and quality were significantly predictive of ‘green’ consumption. The significance of motivations indicates that there is potential for additional methods of encouraging ‘green’ consumption behavior.
The findings of this study have strong implications for utilization of focus theory of normative conduct principles in applied ‘green’ grocery shopping settings. I suggest utilizing community-based social marketing strategies to make injunctive norms regarding environmental conservation more salient in grocery shopping settings. A similar strategy could be used to capitalize on findings regarding motivations. By emphasizing the ‘quality’ components that consumers identify as desirable, it may be possible to increase consumption of ‘green’ products among individuals who do not express a great degree of environmental concern. Applying these strategies would likely increase ‘green’ purchasing behavior and would thereby contribute to increased environmental conservation.
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