Are ecofriendly products to blame for Vancouver’s unfriendly people?

Environmentalists just can’t seem to win these days. First there was Climategate, then there was the complete fail that was Copenhagen, and finally the melting Himalayan glaciers mistake—all of which contributed to the findings of a Gallup poll released last week that 48 percent of Americans think that the threat of global warming is overblown.

Now comes the devastating finding that “green products do not necessarily make for better people”—at least according to Do Green Products Make Us Better People, a new study by University of Toronto professors Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, released in the latest edition of Psychological Science and published on-line last week.

Mazar and Zhong based their study on the assumption that our purchases are more and more reflective of our social and moral values, which is why products carrying organic, local, fair-trade, carbon-neutral, and similar labels appeal to conscious consumers, even when they come with a higher price tag. The authors found that we often attribute “higher social and moral values” to those who buy green, too. But how does buying green products actually affect our behaviour, if at all?

Citing research that people given photos of upscale restaurants subsequently practice better manners while eating or the finding that just being exposed to the Apple logo can increase creativity, the researchers confirmed that “mere exposure to green products” is enough to influence how people act and results in people acting more altruistically.

However, after buying green products, people are less altruistic, more asocial, and show an increased willingness to lie, cheat, and steal.

So what does this mean for people living in Vancouver, where our reputation as a green city—with assists from the new LEED-certified Olympic Village and Mayor Gregor Robertson, a former farmer and cofounder of organic juice company Happy Planet—became the focus of not a few international publications during the Olympics?

Should you be wary of all nature-loving hippies (if you’re not already)? Are you likely to be mugged outside Whole Foods or on your way home from the farmers market?

Probably not. Green shoppers are not inherently immoral; rather, the authors believe that the bad behaviour backlash to buying green is caused by a holier-than-thou type of effect. Anyone benefitting from a boost to their moral self-esteem after doing a good deed—like buying ecofriendly laundry detergent or recycled toilet paper, for example—is less likely to scrutinize their own behaviour and consequently more likely to act like an asshole.




Mar 19, 2010 at 1:05pm

Makes sense,
at least Prius drivers always seem to behave like pricks in the traffic...


Mar 27, 2010 at 11:07am

What an asinine article about an asinine study...

Buying eco-friendly is a people-positive behaviour done to benefit the buyer, the broader community, the health of the planet and ultimately the survival of life on earth.

The only people who think that making conscientious purchase decisions is a holier than thou exercise are the people who don't spend their money so deliberately.

Thanks for calling me the asshole for trying to do something small through the power of my dollar that benefits more than myself.

karla cruz

Jun 16, 2010 at 6:13pm

Thank you for that report, i live in vancouver and people are so unfriendly and mean and rude. They buy green products but behave rudely to their fellow human beings. Thats doesn't make any sense. I always buy green products because i think is healthier to my body but i am nice and friendly to my fellow human beings. I have also experienced racism and i'm trying to eat healthy and be like everyone else but everyone else remains assholes. So. thank u for the report because it is so true.

David Sim

Jul 31, 2011 at 1:17pm

This article is complete shit and inaccurate.


May 13, 2013 at 3:55pm

This article is ludicrous; perhaps the products that people buy don't correlate whatsoever to who those people are? Since when were we measured, as people, by what we buy and not who we are? Absolute drivel.