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To buy or not to buy? A social dilemma perspective on green buying

Shruti Gupta (The Pennsylvania State University – Abington, Abington, Pennsylvania, USA)
Denise T. Ogden (The Pennsylvania State University – Lehigh Valley, Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 11 September 2009




The purpose of this paper is to draw on social dilemma theory and reference group theory to explain the attitude‐behavior inconsistency in environmental consumerism. This research seeks to better understand why, despite concern towards the environment (attitude), consumers fail to purchase environmentally friendly or green products (behavior).


A survey instrument was developed that used scales to measure eight independent and one dependent variable. In addition, socio‐demographic data were also collected about the study participants. To discriminate between green and non‐green buyers, classification with discriminant analysis was used.


The framework presented contributes to the environmental consumerism literature by framing the attitude‐behavior gap as a social dilemma and draws on reference group theory to identify individual factors to help understand the gap and suggest ways in which to bridge it. Results from the study reveal that several characteristics of the individual – trust, in‐group identity, expectation of others' cooperation and perceived efficacy – were significant in differentiating between “non‐green” and “green” buyers.

Practical implications

The results of the study offer several managerial implications. First, marketers should reinforce the role trust plays in solidifying collective action. Second, because of the strong influence of reference groups in green buying, marketing communications managers should use spokespeople who are relatable. Third, the study showed that expectation of others' cooperation significantly identifies green buyers. Fourth, to address the perception of personal efficacy, it is important that green marketers emphasize the difference that individual action makes for the collective good.


The research draws on both social dilemma and reference group theories to investigate the determinants of and the mechanisms to explain the rationale behind the attitude‐behavior gap as it pertains to a specific environmental issue – energy conservation.



Gupta, S. and Ogden, D.T. (2009), "To buy or not to buy? A social dilemma perspective on green buying", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 26 No. 6, pp. 376-391.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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