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Psychology, Sustainability

Paying more to do harm

Carbon taxes? Nope, not what this blog is about. This one is about a new study by Lee and Winterich (2022) that found that when unsustainable goods like individually wrapped foods are more expensive, wealthy people felt more entitled to them and were more likely to make the purchase. That’s right, charge more and you’re more likely to attract wealthy buyers for unsustainable goods. Charge too little and they’ll walk right by

I have to admit, this one is surprising to me. Paying more for something that you know is less sustainable because you can, and more than that you feel entitled to do so. It’s the equivalent of basically saying “I’m rich, therefore I deserve to harm the planet”.

The authors posit that this relates to lower income individuals having more of a history of supporting each other in a community but they also found that reminding wealthy individuals that everyone is equal negated the entitlement effect. This makes me wonder if at least some of this is caused by the biased thinking that make people think they are solely responsible for their success. “I achieved my success on my own actions and therefore I deserve to do with it what I want”. By reminding them that everyone is equal it takes some of the self indulgence out of the picture of their success. If everyone is equal, then perhaps others are worthy as well and it wasn’t just my own grit that got me here.

Needless to say, I’m curious where this research will go and what we’ll find. Any findings have potential application to increasing sustainable actions. Do we need equality messages on packaged foods to encourage people to buy bulk for example?

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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