Does “Going Green” Lead to Unethical Behavior?


Would driving this ugly thing make you a better person?

Have you ever felt like someone else is better than you because they grocery shop with reusable bags and you’re still snatching 10 to 20 plastic ones?

A new study says that (1) you are most likely being positively impacted by the cloth bag lady, but (2) she is most likely a selfish jerk.

Ok, maybe not quite.

The study actually found that “mere exposure” to green products can increase altruistic behavior, but actually purchasing those products can result in quite the opposite.

Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, the study’s authors, sum it up as follows:

Although mere exposure to green products can have a positive societal effect by inducing prosocial and ethical acts, purchasing green products may license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors.

But why would that be the case?

Green products embody social considerations, so that mere exposure to them increases subsequent prosocial behavior. However, acting upon one’s values establishes moral credentials that can subsequently license deviating behavior.

What are the implications of this? Is this the case with anything else that “establishes moral credentials”? If that were the case, wouldn’t it mean that any “good work” would lead to the doer’s eventual deviation? Not quite.

The study’s authors explain the difference in terms of the way consumers are “primed” before their purchase of green goodies. In other words, our exposure to “green morality” may make us more altruistic, but with that glorification of eco-consumerism comes a sense of moral legitimacy that people tend to assume when they participate. By assuming this morally superior outlook, those consumers eventually tend to believe they are entitled, or “licensed,” to misbehave.

As the authors note, this trend is not limited to green products:

In previous research, moral credentials and the behaviors they licensed were typically in the same domain (e.g., gender-egalitarian acts licensed gender-discriminatory behaviors…reminders of humanitarian traits reduced charitable donations… We examined the licensing effect across seemingly unrelated domains (i.e., purchasing, altruism, and honesty).

What does this say about the effects of “priming”? To what extent do we allow ourselves to be primed by advertising, pop culture, the government, or even organized religion?

In one way, I feel like this is an argument for Radical Individualism.

If you are doing charitable deeds for the sake of mere societal acceptance or admiration, such actions will most likely promote a less than pure personal outlook. However, if you are doing charitable deeds because you enjoy giving to others and you find pleasure in doing good, chances are you won’t feel the need (or “license”) to slack off in other areas of your life.

True charity and positive action requires having a pure and healthy outlook of yourself, which will lead to true positive change in a way that is effective and adaptable on a community level. You will be doing good deeds according to a healthy outlook and a genuine concern for the given circumstances, not according to whether General Electric told you it was cool and socially conscious in the given year.

In other words…

If you are buying soap because the package says it will save the planet, chances are you are going to get puffed up and think you are Mr. or Mrs. Planet Healer. However, if you are buying soap because you just want to wash your hands, chances are you are going to wash your hands and get on with your life.

Thoughts?

To read the full article click here.

(Note: The image above is provided by Etee / / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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  • AnyaKatarina

    Is this related to the fact that your “reward is great” when “your right hand doesn't know what your left hand is doing” (i.e., when your giving is just naturally flowing from your HEART, not your head). Perhaps this explains why so much “altruistic” behavior only bears FRUIT when there is a deep HEART attachment and HEART motivation emanating with it. “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

  • AnyaKatarina

    Is this related to the fact that your “reward is great” when “your right hand doesn't know what your left hand is doing” (i.e., when your giving is just naturally flowing from your HEART, not your head). Perhaps this explains why so much “altruistic” behavior only bears FRUIT when there is a deep HEART attachment and HEART motivation emanating with it. “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

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  • Anonymous

    Check out The Cornall Alliance declaration. Unlike most “green movement” groups, it clearly places mankind as steward, not the sole source of environmental problems.