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When is green a purchase motive? Different answers from different selves

Rita Martenson (Department of Marketing Gothenburg, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 8 December 2017

Issue publication date: 3 January 2018




The purpose of this paper is to provide new ways of thinking about what motivates consumers to choose the green alternative, ideas that will be helpful in reducing the unsatisfactory green attitude-behaviour gap. Consumers have many self-aspects. This paper shows why it is necessary to activate consumers’ pragmatic selves if we want to predict purchase behaviour. The pragmatic self is concerned with costs and reference prices. When researchers activate consumers’ idealistic selves, they get idealistic answers which deviate from actual behaviour. The study also distinguishes between green alternatives with desirable green or non-green self-benefits, and green alternatives with other-benefits that are difficult to comprehend.


This study is based on a consumer survey and the data is analysed with structural equation modelling. The concept environmental colour is introduced to understand purchase differences between different consumer segments on the market.


This study shows that consumers buy benefits, which is why dark brown consumers choose the green alternative when it has a competitive advantage. It also shows that the propensity to choose the green alternative is highest among consumers who in addition see green as a benefit and have the habit of buying other green products. Another result is that the green consumers have higher self-awareness than brown consumers and are very cost conscious.

Practical implications

Good decisions are based on what consumers actually do, not what they say they would like to do. This paper offers practical help on understanding consumers’ purchase criteria and how to activate their pragmatic selves. Much more could be done to promote the pro-self and pro-social benefits of making sustainable choices.

Social implications

To get a sustainable world, it is urgent to understand what motivates consumers to pay extra for environmentally friendly alternatives.


This paper offers new theoretical insights on how researchers can reduce the green gap.



Martenson, R. (2018), "When is green a purchase motive? Different answers from different selves", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 46 No. 1, pp. 21-33.



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