Ethical Products = Less Strong: How Explicit and Implicit Reliance on the Lay Theory Affects Consumption Behaviors
Authors: Robert Mai, Stefan Hoffmann, Wassili Lasarov and Arne Buhs (forthcoming, Journal of Business Ethics)
Many consumers implicitly associate sustainability with lower product strength. This so-called ethical = less strong intuition (ELSI) poses a major threat for the success of sustainable products. This article explores this pervasive lay theory and examines whether it is a key barrier for sustainable consumption patterns. Even more importantly, little is known about the underlying mechanisms that might operate differently at the implicit and explicit levels of the consumer’s decision-making. To fill this gap, three studies examine how the implicit judgments that consumers activate automatically shape their consumption behaviors, in concert with their more controlled explicit beliefs about sustainable products. The Main Study investigates the ELSI’s imprint on actual shopping patterns and disentangles the implicit and explicit mechanisms of the lay theory. This paper also asks how this negative influence can be attenuated by examining whether the consumer’s interest in sustainable consumption reduces reliance on the ELSI. Two follow-up studies confirm the robustness from different methodological and practical perspectives. Implications for companies and policy makers are derived.