Conspicuous conservation

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Conspicuous Conservation is described as partaking in activities that are environmentally friendly in order to signal a higher social status[1].

Buying explicitly green products to signal high social status is a prime example of conspicuous conservation.

As global warming begins to raise an increasing amount of concern, we humans are starting to recognize the consequences that our actions have on our planet. Conspicuous conservation is a growing concept that has come out of the phenomenon of conspicuous consumption.[2] History has shown that humans are known to be obsessed with consuming material goods. However, it is only recently that we have come to terms with the subsequent consequences that threatens our environment as a result of mass production.[3]

Conspicuous consumption and conservation are more than simple actions that one commits throughout the day, but are more so a creation of a new branch of culture.[4] This addiction of consumption redefines taste and behaviour of societies, thus causing a culture shift. This shift progresses as individuals from different societies choose to deal with this addictive consumption and whether or not they chose to engage in conspicuous conservation.[5] This retaliatory movement known as conspicuous conservation fights consumption with a focuses on conscientious environmental choices that encourage consumers to think green.[6]Therefore, this encourages buyers to rethink their need for a product prior to its purchase and to determine whether the environmental damage it produced to be constructed are worth the consequences.


Conspicuous conservation owes its to Seymour Sacks, who first mentioned the term in a private conversation.[7][8] He was an economics professor at the University of Syracuse(US).[8] Don White later worked on the concept in the framework of consumer behaviour.

In Veblen’s The theory of the leisureclass, conspicuous consumption refers to the ostensible waste of time, or the spending on goods of more money than they are worth in order to impress one's importance on others[8]

Ron D. White establishes the reword of conspicuous conservation from conspicuous consumption.[8] The same dysfunctional and inefficient display of wealth can be observed in the context of energy conservation, where a costly, ineffective but visible windmill is bought instead of a smaller investment in good insulation and efficient stove.[8]

In 2007, this term was mentioned by Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Clubof Hawaï.[9] During a meeting about climate change and global warming, he refers to conspicuous conservation as "[...] folks that are visibly outward in a conservation behaviour as a way of kind of gaining acceptance".[10][9]


Vladas Griskevicius, Joshua M. Tybur, and Bram Van den Bergh, psychological authors and professors who also have extensive knowledge in the marketing field, have conducted experiments between 2007 and 2009 where they argue that buying "green products" can be construed as altruistic.[1] Because altruistic behaviour might function as a costly signalof social status, conspicuous conservation can be interpreted as a signal of high status.[11] Their experiments showed that activating status motives led people to choose green products over more luxurious non-green products.[1] The status motive increases the willingness to buy green products in public (but not in private) settings and in settings where green products cost more than non-green products.[1] According to the authors, status competition can thus be used to promote pro-environmental behaviour.[1]

More about these experiments here:

Experiment 1: Status and Conservation - Griskevicius, Tybur, et al.


This study aimed to demonstrate how eliciting participant's motivation for achieving a high social status is positively correlated with their choice of buying more pro-environmental “green” products, rather than their luxurious non “nongreen” counterparts.[1]


This study was conducted on one hundred and sixty-eight students, consisting of sixty-five men and one hundred and three women all participating for university course credit. As always, a cover storywas used to hide the true purpose of the study.[1]

Participants were divided into two motive conditions: a status and a control group. Both groups had to read a short story (the theme of the stories each group read varied), and were later asked to choose which products (“green” vs “nongreen”) they’d consider buying.[1] Because of the cover story, participants were under the impression that they were participating in a memory-based experiment, and were only reading to waste time before their “memory recognition” task.[1]

Those in the status-motive condition read a story that had been “used successfully to elicit status motives in previous research.”[1] The story involves participants imagining themselves graduating from college, and working for a large company where they’d be guaranteed success and high status.[1] Essentially, participants underwent a feeling of motivation and longing for such high status.

On the other hand, those in the control condition read a story where they imagined themselves losing a concert ticket, but then finding it in their house and going to a concert with a same-sex peer.[12][1] There was even another control group, where participants read no story at all and simply went straight into making product choice.[1]

Figure 1: Percentage of participants in each group choosing the pro-environmental products.Respective to the car (purple), soap (blue), and dishwasher (green), the control group chose the pro-environmental products 37.2%, 25.7%, and 34.5% of the time.[1] Participants of the motive-status group were much more likely to choose the green productsand choose them 54.5%, 41.8%, and 49.1% of the time, respectively.[1]

The next part of the study asked participants from the status-motive condition and the control condition to imagine that they were shopping for a car, a household cleaner, and a dishwasher.[1] For each product, they had two options: a luxurious non green option or the green option, both which were sold for the same price, were produced by the same manufacturer, and were described using an equal number of positive attributes.[1] The participants also had to rate how they imagined the potential owners of each of these products would be, namely how nice, caring, and altruistic they imagined them being.[1]


Across the board, participants perceived owners of “green” products to be more prosocial.[1] There was also no difference between the two control groups.[1] The results of the experiments also showed that those in the control group were more likely to choose the “nongreen” products, and those in the status-motive group were much more likely to choose the “green” products (see Figure 1).[1]This study has been considered the first to demonstrate conspicuous conservation behaviour, specifically how eliciting status motives leads to a higher likelihood of people engaging in “proenvironmental, self-sacrificing behaviour”.[1]

In regards to how this applies to real life, one may suspect that an individual who places much emphasis and importance on their social status may be more inclined to partake in environmentally-friendly consumer choices. These buying choices then are not derived because these people are genuinely altruistic, but more-so because they want to be perceived as such in order to obtain (or maintain) a high social status.

Experiment 2: Status and Conservation in Public vs. Private - Griskevicious et al.


Similar to the first experiment, this second experiment also looks at status motives and how they influence a person's behavior to buy green products. However, in comparison to experiment 1, experiment 2 goes more in depth, and looks at how setting might influence a person's purchasing decision.[1][13] Experiment 2 investigates how status motives will affect a person's preference of buying either a more environmentally friendly, green product, or a more luxurious, non-green product, when taking into account shopping in either a public or private setting.[1][13]


The conductors of this experiment predicted that when one shops in public (such as shopping at a store), status motives should lead more individuals to purchase more green products over non-green products.[1] On the other hand, when one shops in private (such as online-shopping alone at home), status motives would have less of an affect, leading to an increased likelihood that participants would buy the more luxurious non-green products.[1]


The study was conducted on ninety-three university students, and amongst these students included fifty-eight men, and thirty-five women.[1] The method for this experiment involved seating the students at computers with partitions in between them, to ensure that students could not see each other's screens and shopping decisions.[1] The same cover story was used as experiment 1.[1]

Figure 2: "Preference for green products relative to more luxurious non green products as a function of active motive and whether purchasing is in public or private".[14] Notice how eliciting status-motivation leads to the highest likelihood of purchasing green products in public, but the least likely of buying them in private.[1]

The procedure of the experiment followed a between-subjects design, which entails splitting the participants into two groups: a status group and a control group.[1]The participants in each group were then split into two audience groups: a "private" group, and a "public" group.[1] In order to infer status motives, exactly as they did in experiment 1, participants of the status group were asked to read the same status-motive eliciting short-story, and members of the control group read a non-status eliciting story.[1]

After the groups read the short-stories, the participants were asked to imagine themselves in either a public or a private setting.[1] Those that were tested under a private condition were asked to imagine themselves shopping online, in private, and for those tested under a public condition, they were asked to imagine themselves shopping at a store.[1]

After participants were asked to imagine themselves in these scenarios, they were then requested to choose between the pro-green version or the more luxurious, non-green version of each of these products: a backpack, batteries, and a table lamp,[1] which were displayed on a computer screen in front of them.


A two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA)(two independent variables (i.e. public or private), with one dependent variable (i.e. status-motivation)) was carried out to obtain results, and the results found that for the active status group, there were significantly more participants that preferred green products over non-green products, when shopping in a public setting[1](see figure 2). Similarly, more participants in the control group preferred green, pro-environmental products rather than non-green, luxurious products, when shopping in public as well.[1] When shopping in a private setting however, the results differed greatly.[1] The results for participants who shopped in a private setting revealed that activating status motives increased preferences for more luxurious, non-green products, when compared to the control group where preferences for green, environment-friendly products was higher in a private setting.[1]

Based on these results, it can be deduced that in real life, people's shopping decisions (in terms of buying green or non-green products) can actually be influenced by whether other people are watching them or not (public vs. private setting).

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an Griskevicius, Vladas; Tybur, Joshua M.; Van den Bergh, Bram (2010). "Going green to be seen: Status, reputation, and conspicuous conservation". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 98 (3): 392–404. doi:10.1037/a0017346. ISSN 1939-1315.
  2. ^ Sexton, Steven E.; Sexton, Alison L. (2014-05). "Conspicuous conservation: The Prius halo and willingness to pay for environmental bona fides". Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. 67 (3): 303–317. doi:10.1016/j.jeem.2013.11.004. ISSN 0095-0696. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Bocking, Emma (2017-07-25). ""The Carbon Code: How You Can Become a Climate Change Hero" by Brett Favaro, 2017. [book review]". The Canadian Field-Naturalist. 131 (1): 85. doi:10.22621/cfn.v131i1.1975. ISSN 0008-3550.
  4. ^ Sallie., McNamara, (2018). Tatler's Irony : Conspicuous Consumption, Inconspicuous Power and Social Change. Springer International Publishing. ISBN 9783319769141. OCLC 1042189216.
  5. ^ “In with the In Crowd.” Tatler's Irony: Conspicuous Consumption, Inconspicuous Power and Social Change, by Sallie McNamara, Springer International Publishing, 2018, pp. 50–67-124.
  6. ^ Bocking, Emma (2017-07-25). ""The Carbon Code: How You Can Become a Climate Change Hero" by Brett Favaro, 2017. [book review]". The Canadian Field-Naturalist. 131 (1): 85. doi:10.22621/cfn.v131i1.1975. ISSN 0008-3550.
  7. ^ White, Ron D. (June 1, 1978). "Growth versus Conservation: A Veblenian Perspective". Journal of Economic Issues: 433 – via ProQuest.
  8. ^ a b c d e White, Ron D. (June 1, 1978). "Growth versus Conservation: A Veblenian Perspective". Journal of Economic Issues. XII No.2 – via ProQuest.
  9. ^ a b "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 2014-04-21. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  10. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 2014-04-21. p. 155. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  11. ^ Griskevicius, Vladas; Tybur, Joshua; Van den Bergh, Bram (2010). "Going Green to Be Seen: Status, Reputation, and Conspicuous Conservation". PsycEXTRA Dataset. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  12. ^ Griskevicius, Vladas; Goldstein, Noah J.; Mortensen, Chad R.; Cialdini, Robert B.; Kenrick, Douglas T. (2006). "Going along versus going alone: When fundamental motives facilitate strategic (non)conformity". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 91 (2): 281–294. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.91.2.281. ISSN 1939-1315.
  13. ^ a b GODOY, R; REYESGARCIA, V; HUANCA, T; LEONARD, W; MCDADE, T; TANNER, S; VADEZ, V; SEYFRIED, C (2007-03). "Signaling by consumption in a native Amazonian society☆". Evolution and Human Behavior. 28 (2): 124–134. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2006.08.005. ISSN 1090-5138. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  14. ^ Griskevicius, Vladas; Tybur, Joshua M.; Van den Bergh, Bram (2010). "Going green to be seen: Status, reputation, and conspicuous conservation". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 98 (3): 392–404. doi:10.1037/a0017346. ISSN 1939-1315.

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