Are sustainable products important to you?
The answer is most likely yes because you’re reading this right now.
But do you really want to know if the products you buy are NOT made sustainably or ethically?
It turns out most people do not.
The more people care about ethical practices, the less they want to know if the products they buy are NOT made ethically. They want to avoid a conflict between their beliefs (child labor is bad) and knowledge (products were made using child labor).
The brain works in ways to help you avoid this conflict and justify the purchases you make. If you’re aware of these mind games you can become a more ethical and happier shopper.
Be Aware of Your Ignorance
Willful ignorance, the avoidance of facts that don’t match your values, helps you navigate the world because, let’s face it, the world isn’t a perfect place. You avoid information that is opposed to your values so that you won’t feel guilty. One study found that 33% of subjects preferred to look at a blank screen rather than a photo of housing conditions of pregnant hogs. The same number admitted to being willfully ignorant of pork production. Willful ignorance helps people go about their daily life without having to solve difficult moral problems at every turn.
Forgetting is another way to remain willfully ignorant. Researchers at Ohio State University found that people will forget or misremember information about a product made unethically. When we want something we forget if the product is made using child labor or avoid facts that it is not made environmentally. What we want wins out over what we should do.
But it also works the other way. Not only do some consumers prefer to buy ethically made products, they remember when a product is made ethically. If we learn something good about a product that matches our values, we will remember it and feel good about what we buy. When people know something is made ethically, studies show that it boosts evaluation of a product. They are more willing to buy something that may not have the best ratings because they get a “warm glow feeling” from buying an ethically made product. Subjects in one study were willing to buy a phone that was shown to be made ethically, even though it was expensive, ugly and technically inferior to others on the market.
Don’t Outsource the Harm
Part of willful ignorance is having someone else do the dirty work; we think if we don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Customers put the burden on companies and companies outsource their dirty work to other companies and turn a blind eye. In this way we distance ourselves from unethical behavior and remain blissfully ignorant.
Consumers will not seek out negative information about the things they buy. If they do find out negative information they may rationalize to help them cope with negative emotions like guilt and anger. Research by Neeru Paharia, Professor of Marketing at Arizona State University shows that people judge the morality of how a product is made according to how much they like it. When they are shown an ugly pair of shoes they agree that sweatshop labor is bad, but when the shoes are cute they look for ways to justify those bad labor practices.
Even if we are motivated to buy sustainably, we don’t always have the opportunity.
Paharia suggests some marketing strategies that companies can follow for a more sustainable marketplace.
Softly is one of these new business models–a unique new tool to help keep us all productive and conscientious when we shop. Softly allows you to “filter in” the good things you are looking for in a product when shopping on Amazon. You can buy based on your values and make sure products follow safe labor practices. It’s free and you can get it at www.getsoftly.com or the Chrome web store.
Seek out the Positive
What we do as a consumer may seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to sustainability. But there are some things we can do. We can look for products that are made ethically, be aware of the games our mind plays to keep us in the dark and look for third party certifications that monitor companies’ production practices.
“Don’t put something in your online shopping cart that you know was made unethically and say you’ll think about it. By the time you come back, there is a good chance you will have forgotten what troubled you in the first place.” Daniel Zane, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Lehigh University
We make a lot of decisions every day, many of them about what we buy. If we like something we may choose to stay in the dark about how it was made. But if we care about fair labor practices and environmentally friendly products, choosing sustainability can make us feel good.