The willingness of customers to offset CO2 emissions
The importance of global warming has progressed to the point that there are very few people who would deny its significance and the fact that it must be counteracted. Over the last decade, there have been a number of attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fight global warming, and many activists (across different cultures) have championed the cause of environmental awareness. There is no avoiding the consumption of products that emit carbon dioxide; however, people can change the way in which they offset the harmful effects of such products. For example, they can overhaul their lifestyle by walking more or growing more of their own food. However, the implementation of strategies to combat global warming has proved to be largely unsuccessful. There are many reasons for this lack of success, and they span from lifestyle factors, economic policy, the way in which the media frames global warming, and a general inability to properly educate consumers about the harmful effects of global warming and how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This paper reviews the extant literature surrounding the willingness of customers to offset carbon-dioxide emissions of consumed products and services.
The willingness and investment in counteracting the harmful effects of climate change are remarkably similar across different countries; this is particularly significant in that it reflects the way in which customer attitudes are relatively uniform throughout the world (Reiner et al., 2006). Consequently, the attempt to overhaul the way in which customers view climate change requires a systematic reworking that takes place on a global scale. Although Americans do have a slightly lower percentage of the population who feel that global warming is a serious problem compared to other countries in the developed world, nations such as Sweden, Britain, and Japan have similarly misrecognized the extent to which global warming is a major threat to the environment (Reiner et al., 2006).
It has been shown that the public investment in combating global warming has a negative correlation with national wealth (Sandvik, 2008). It is this reason that perhaps governs the motives of customers most of all, as it draws a correlation between economic success and environmental lack of consciousness. Indeed, it would appear as though the public is unable to embrace climate change as long as they flourish economically. In order for people to truly become cognizant of the dangers of global warming, they must have some threat to their immediate well-being, and the lack of such a threat is what has caused the lack of motivation evinced by customers with regard to offsetting CO2 emissions.
Not only is the issue of offsetting carbon dioxide emissions a global one, but attacking global warming requires changes in lifestyle and economic policy, both of which influence consumer behavior. The energy consumption by the general public (across different countries) relates to both lifestyle and the influence of their country’s economic policy. There must also be improved communication with the public. In many cases, the public is willing to subsidize initiatives predicated around improving carbon dioxide emissions, but they simply have no knowledge of how to enact such change. It has been shown that the average American will pay between $150 and $200 more than they currently spend on electricity; however, they are unwilling to actually go through the effort of changing their electric program (Aldy, Kotchen, Leiserowitz, 2012). In this regard, there is a fundamental passivity that characterizes customer behavior. To an extent, their reticence is understandable, since environmental science has only recently risen in popularity as an academic discipline. However, the problem remains that the vast majority of people have very little knowledge of global warming or even how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Ultimately, it is difficult for people to comprehend climate change because energy use is so multifaceted. Specifically, the existing literature has stressed the way in which energy use has both direct and indirect manifestations. Direct energy use stems from a person’s individual behavior, over which they have total control; this includes activities such as taking showers, using electricity, and driving a car (Bin, Dowlatabadi, 2005). It is these activities that are perhaps attributed the most scorn by the environmentally-conscious community, as people are continually chastised for driving a car that is not fuel-efficient enough or using too much electricity. However, the greatest amount of CO2 emissions are stem from consumption that is indirect, including major operations involving transportation, food service, and clothing (Bin, Dowlatabadi, 2005). The distinction between direct and indirect energy consumption is significant in the discourse on customers offsetting carbon dioxide emissions because much of the public is unaware of indirect causes — they are therefore less likely to assume responsibility for them and try to offset their corresponding effects.
Perhaps the greatest reason why customers have exhibited little motivation for reducing CO2 emissions is that people have a fundamental aversion toward change, in all of its manifestations. Their reticence toward change is particularly pronounced when it involves fundamental aspects of their lifestyle, such as choice in car and home energy use. They are unlikely to offset the carbon dioxide emissions of such products, because they are viewed as indispensable to their lifestyle. It is difficult for a person who is attached to their car to view the car has contributed negatively to the world climate. In turn, they are also unlikely to purchase products that would be more beneficial to the climate. For example, the hybrid car (as well as the newer electric hybrid) has now been on the market for a number of years; however, the public has not embraced the hybrid car en masse, which is absolutely imperative for offsetting carbon dioxide emissions.
Customer willingness to purchase a hybrid automobile has many determining factors. Perhaps the greatest involves the price of the hybrid, particularly when considering the size of hybrid automobiles. Simply put, hybrids are substantially more expensive than non-hybrid counterparts, and the electric car is particularly expensive (generally costing in the mid-$30,000 range for a compact-midsize automobile.) Indeed, in their study of customer attitudes in Japan, Kishi and Satoh (2005) note:
“Although there are people who will buy a hybrid car which is more expensive than a gas-powered car, there are few hybrid cars with prices acceptable for the potential purchasers. Now gas-powered cars are mainstream vehicles in Japan and it is necessary to prevail low-pollution cars to minimize vehicle oriented environmental problems. Toward the future, lowering low-pollution car price and diversifying the vehicle type are as important as raising the environmental awareness of people.” (313).
The predicament identified by the authors is basically universal and a common complaint in the Western world as well. Of course, lowering the price of hybrid cars makes great sense in theory, but actually implementing such an initiative would require the cooperation of entire automobile industries from around the world.
Another issue that has been raised in the extant literature on customer behavior is that it is common for customers to develop a strong attachment to a particular type of product, independent of whether it is environmentally prudent. For example, customers in Germany have a predilection for diesel-powered automobiles. Achtnicht (2012) conducted a study that traced customer behavior with consideration for both fuel type and carbon dioxide emissions, and found that while people are environmentally conscious on an intellectual level, they are unwilling to sacrifice their love for diesel-powered, high-horsepower automobiles.
Studies have also recognized the strong extent to which customer behavior is influenced by the way in which a product is constituted within society, and this is particularly pronounced with regard to automobiles, which are viewed as a major status symbol. For example, it is difficult for an upwardly mobile consumer in the United States to purchase an electric Chevrolet Volt (despite the fact that the Volt costs upwards of $30,000) when they could afford a luxury manufacturer for a similar price. Indeed, Karplus, Patsev, and Reilly note that vehicle cost will be a major deterrent with regard to the purchase of plug-in electric hybrid cars in the United States and Japan (2010). It can be inferred that if people feel that electric cars are prohibitively expensive, they will not only be dissuaded from purchasing such a vehicle but may also fail to take ownership for the carbon dioxide emitted by their car, and they will be less likely to take measures to offset the carbon dioxide emissions from their car.
Even if customers are unwilling to offset the CO2 emissions of products and services, it could be argued that they should still be more willing to purchase products that do not emit as much carbon-dioxide. However, this is not the case, and it has been shown that the reputation of a product mandates the customer’s purchase. A recent study conducted in Thailand affirmed the extreme influence that attitude has toward customer motivation to purchase a particular product (Sanitthangkui, 2012). Even in cases where the government offers price reductions or incentive initiatives, the public is unlikely to purchase product unless it has been framed attractively by society (Sanitthangkui, 2012).
People have been unmotivated to offset the carbon dioxide emissions of automobiles due to a personal attachment to their cars. However, they have also been more willing to implement procedures and products in their home that are more energy efficient. One notable example of this concerns electricity and light fixtures. In recent years, lighting that is more energy efficient has become incredibly popular, and it has been shown that people are even willing to pay greater sums of money to purchase lighting systems that are more energy efficient (Stall-Meadows, Hebert, 2001). Such behavior stands in stark contrast with consumer habits with regard to automobiles, and this is perhaps attributable to the fact that electricity is viewed as being more utilitarian and less of a status symbol. It may also be a result of the fact that cars are more public while electricity is featured in the privacy of one’s own home.
Additionally, a study conducted in Sweden studied electricity among Swedish residents, concluded that most people who purchase more environmentally friendly lighting systems do so out of a desire to assist the efforts in combating global warming, suggesting that certain regions of the globe are actually quite well-educated with regard to the harmful effects of climate change. One possible reason for the acceptance of environmentally efficient energy is that people may be viewing their low-emission electricity systems as offsetting the more harmful carbon dioxide emissions imparted from their automobiles (Hansla 2011). In this regard, there does appear to be a commitment to being more environmentally friendly in areas that are easiest to improve upon; for example, restaurants that advertise their sustainability and environmental consciousness have seen a recent surge in profits (Hu, Parsa, Self, 2010).
One of the greatest reasons for why customers have generally shown a deep reticence to offset carbon dioxide emissions is that a strong proportion of carbon dioxide emissions are the result of economic factors that are beyond the control of the individual customer. Specifically, it has been shown that roughly one quarter of the global carbon dioxide emissions are the result of international trading; this is particularly the case within the developed world, including the United Kingdom, China, Austria, and Switzlerland (Davis, Caldeira, 2010). Given that the average customer in each of these countries is not informed as to the trading activity of the economy, they may be less likely to assume responsibility for the CO2 emission and work toward offsetting it.
The harmful environmental effects of international trading are particularly pronounced in China, which has now surpassed the United States as the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide. It could be argued that it makes perfect sense for China to be the world’s top emitter, considering that China also has the world’s largest population. However, the speed of China’s CO2 emission appears to be growing disproportionately with its population and it is a result mainly of the vast amounts of exporting that take place (Guan et al., 2009). Moreover, attempts to counteract the unfortunate development of carbon dioxide emission in China have proven unsuccessful. It has been noted that even changes in lifestyle and urbanization have not been able to combat carbon dioxide emission, and that China would essentially have to overhaul its entire economy in order to successfully reduce its CO2 emission totals (Peters et al., 2007). In this regard, the efforts of the Chinese public would not manage to achieve the necessary overhaul to the nation’s environmental policy. Consequently, lack of agency may be causing a lack of motivation and feeling of helplessness with regard to offsetting CO2 emissions in China. Thus, there are major economic forces that may preclude customer engagement with the effort to offset carbon dioxide emissions from consumed products.
Ultimately, increasing customer willingness to offset the Cos emissions from their consumed products will not occur without a major overhaul to the way in which global warming statistics and information are communicated to the public. Specifically, although much of the public is aware of the fact that global warming is a real and dangerous phenomenon, there are still factions of the global population who feel that it is fabricated and sensationalist. For example, in the United States global warming has a political stigma attached to it, as many political conservatives have accused the political liberals of fabricating the entire phenomenon in an effort to shock the American public into adopting their political philosophy. It is clear that in order to elicit the effort of conservatives, it will be necessary to divorce climate change from its political connotations.
The political stigma of global warming was perhaps best exemplified in the release of an Inconvenient Truth, a 2006 film that chronicled Al Gore’s attempt to raise awareness of global warming. The film provided a comprehensive introduction of the harmful effects of climate change, although it was widely panned by political conservatives because Gore is a liberal and they felt that the film was a veiled swipe at the conservative Bush presidential administration (Nolan 2010). A climate problem that affects the entire globe was framed as nothing more than a political attack by the Democratic Party. Ultimately, the media must adopt a less biased stance while marketing films such as an Inconvenient Truth.
The most efficacious way of increasing public understanding of climate change and the need to offset carbon dioxide emissions is to present the statistics more clearly. The need to communicate data is every bit as important as the need to understand the underlying causes of global warming, and scientists must do a better job of communicating their research to the public. To this end, it has been argued by Leiserowitz (2006) that global warming has been framed by scientists in overly cognitive terms that suggest that global warming can be intellectualized by everyone in a simple and rational manner:
“These rational choice models typically assume that people analytically assess the desirability and likelihood of possible outcomes to arrive at a calculated decision. This assumption also underlies the expected-utility model that informs much of economic and psychogical theory.” (46).
Leiserowitz identifies how it is incredibly important for global warming to be framed differently to different segments of the population if it has any hope of provoking people to make an effort to offset CO2 emissions.
Certainly, it is crucial for the public to have a more precise understanding of global warming and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. However, it should also be noted that the public does not have to have anything more than a cursory knowledge — overburdening them with jargon will not raise motivation to combat global warming. The literature has shown that the most important information to transmit to the general public involves what causes climate change (Bord, O’Connor, Fisher, 2000). Simply communicating the dangers of global warming may cause people to get alarmed, but unless the public is provided with specific strategies for improving the climate, they will not be compelled to take action to reduce CO2 emissions (Bord, O’Connor, Fisher, 2000).
Ultimately, one of the greatest issues (and frustrations) surrounding the public response to global warming is the paradox whereby the vast majority of people are aware of the dangers surrounding global warming, yet still believe that action can be deferred until further information develops (Sterman, Sweeney, 2007). Not only does this reflect an intellectual laziness on the part of the American public (there is a significant amount of literature delineating the negative climate changes already taking place) but it denotes an attitude in which the public expects that the world’s climate problems will be corrected without a collective effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. To be fair, the general public are not the only ones to blame for this current of thought; in fact, even politicians have been known to promote a ‘wait and see’ dynamic that refuses to directly combat the Earth’s climate problems.
Studies have shown that a useful method for initiating public action in offsetting carbon dioxide emissions is to frame the climate change issues in terms that will directly impact the customer. One study indicated that people will even be willing to pay for climate change initiatives if they receive small benefits of the climate change mitigation, so it is imperative that the general public be aware of how CO2 reduction initiatives can impact them first-hand (Longo, Hoyos, Markandya, 2012). The focus on offsetting carbon dioxide emissions must be geared toward a micro level as much as a macro level in order for people to be able to apply the benefits of CO2 reduction to their own lives.
Customers will only take an active involvement in offsetting CO2 emissions if they are provided with specific procedures that they can implement. Certainly, studies such as that of Herring (2006), who argues that efficient energy will have the negative effect of lowering the price of energy and leading to greater purchase and consumption, do not help the environmental efforts. Moreover, it is virtually impossible for people to give up their cars and other environmentally harmful devices. However, through clearly providing strategies for offsetting CO2 emissions, the public can undertake initiatives that offset CO2 consumption and hopefully improve the health of the planet.
Achtnicht, M. (2012). German car buyers’ willingness to pay to reduce CO2 emissions. Climatic Change, 113(3-4), 679-697.
Aldy, J.E., Kotchen, M.J., & Leiserowitz, a.A. (2012). Willingness to pay and political support for a U.S. national clean energy standard. Nature Climate Change, 2, 569-599.
Bin, S., & Dowlatabadi, H. (2005). Consumer lifestyle approach to U.S. energy use and the related CO2 emissions. Energy Policy, 33(2), 197-208.
Bord, R.J., O’Connor, R.E., Fisher, a. (2000). In what sense does the public need to understand global climate change? Public Understanding of Science, 9(3), 205-218.
Davis, S.J., & Caldeira, K. (2010). Consumption-based accounting of CO2 emissions. PNAS, 107(12), 567-5692.
Guan, D., et al. (2009). Journey to world top emitter: An analysis of the driving forces of China’s recent CO2 emissiions surge. Geophysical Reseearch Letters, 36.
Hansla, a. (2011). Value oreintationa nd framing as determinants of stated willingness to pay for eco-labeled electricity. Energy Efficiency, 4(2), 185-192.
Herring, H. Energy efficiency — a critical view. Energy, 31(1), 10-20.
Hu, H.H., Parsa, H.G., & Self, J. (2010). The dynamics of green restaurant patronage. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 51(3), 344-362.
Karplus, V.J., Paltsev, S., & Reilly, J.M. (2010). Prosepcts for plug-in electric hybrid vehicles in the United States and Japan: A general equilibrium analysis. Transportation Research Part a: Policy and Practice, 44(8), 620-641.
Kishi, K., & Satoh, K. (2005). Evaluation of willingness to buy a low-pollution car in Japan. Journal of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, 6, 3121-3134.
Leiserowitz, a. (2006). Climate change risk perception and policy preferences: The role of affect, imagery, and values. Climatic Change, 77, 45-72.
Longo, a., Hoyos, D., & Markandya, a. (2012). Willingness to pay for ancillary benefits of climate change mitigation. Environmental and Resource Economics, 51(1), 119-140.
Nolan, J.M. (2010). “An Inconvenient Truth” increases knowledge, concern, and willingness to reduce greenhouse gases. Environment and Behavior, 42(5), 643-658.
Peters, G.P., et al. China’s growing CO2 emissions — a race between increasing consumption and efficiency gains. Environmental Science and Technology, 41(17), 5939-5944.
Reiner, D.M., et al. (2006). American exceptionalism? Similarities and differences in national attitudes toward energy policy and global warming. Environmental Science Technology, 40(7), 2093-2098.
Sandvik, H. (2008). Public concern over global warming correlates negatively with national wealth. Climatic Change, 90, 333-341.
Sanitthangkui, J. (2012). Factors affecting consumer attitude toward the use of eco-car vehicles. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 40, 461-466.
Stall-Meadows, C., & Hebert, P.R. (2001). The sustainable consumer: An in situ study of residential lighting alternatives influenced by infield education. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 35(2), 164-170.
Sterman, J.D., Sweeney, L.B. (2007). Understanding public complacency about climate change: Adults’ mental models of climate change violate conservation of matter. Climatic Change, 80, 213-238.
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