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July 31, 2010
Think green; but don't buy green
Well whaddya know: think about buying green and you become a better person, but actually buying green makes you more likely to lie and steal, according to researchers at the University of Toronto: "In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products." The paper was published in Psychological Science, but you can get it free here.
The phenomenon is called licensing, which works like this: When we do a something we feel is praiseworthy, we build up credit in our moral-worth bank, credit many people subconsciously feel gives them license for doing something reprehensible, like lying and stealing. Feels right to me: I've always got a pleasant frisson of smug superiority when eschewing a plastic bag at the checkout stand for a single item, though I have never shoplifted a candy bar or lied to friends to balance out my moral accounts. Apparently that's a temptation too strong for some, including His Greeniness Himself: "When Al Gore was caught running up huge energy bills at home at the same time as lecturing on the need to save electricity, it turns out that he was only reverting to ‘green' type." I didn't say it: that's the Guardian, Manchester, England.
Of course, there are always the naysayers, anonymous reviewers who quibble about methodology. Well, everyone can play that game: in this case, the reviewers, identified only as The London Research and Consulting Group, assert that "In their experiment the authors forced their participants to consume green." I find nothing in the paper that indicates the participants were "forced" to do anything. Oh, the back and forth of science.
Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at email@example.com.