Who Wants to Buy a Pro-Environment Light Bulb? Not Conservatives or Moderates!

First Posted: May 01, 2013 08:13 AM EDT

Who needs an energy efficient light bulb? Not conservatives, that's for sure! A new series of studies has revealed that conservatives are less likely to buy energy efficient light bulbs if they're packaged as environmentally friendly.

During one of the studies, both liberal and conservative participants were given $2 to spend on a light bulb. They had the choice between a 50-cent incandescent bulb and a $1.50 compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb. While the CFL bulb was pricier, it was also far more efficient. The participants were told that the bulb would last 9,000 more hours and reduce energy costs by 75 percent compared with the old-fashioned bulb.

It turns out that both liberal and conservative participants actually chose the CFL bulb--not surprising considering that it was cheaper in the long run. Yet what was surprising was how packaging affected the participants' choices. If the CFL bulb was marked with a sticker that said "Protect the Environment," those who identified as politically moderate or conservative were less likely to buy the light bulb.

"I think we've shown the negative consequences of environmental messaging," said Dena Gromet of the Wharton school of the University of Pennsylvania in an interview with National Geographic. "In particular, you can lose significant portions of people who would otherwise be interested in these products when you use that environmental labeling. So it indicates that different messages can reach different groups.

Yet that didn't mean that conservatives and moderates wouldn't take advantage of a good deal. The research also found that when the CFL bulbs were priced at 50 cents along with the regular bulbs, almost all participants bought the CFL bulb regardless of the environmental sticker.

Environmental issues have become polarized along political lines. Those who are conservative or moderate tend to be more skeptical about human causes behind climate changes, according to LiveScience. This, in turn, can affect buying choices. In fact, energy efficient light bulbs became a point of controversy just a few years ago when Republican members of Congress wanted to overturn legislation that encouraged American manufacturers to phase out the old incandescent bulbs in favor of CFL bulbs.

The study reveals how important packaging is and how marketers can encourage the public to buy environmentally friendly options. It also shows that, despite the previous belief that "green marketing" can only add to the attractiveness of a product, it can actually detract from the item.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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