The Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Application to Pro-environmental Grocery Shopping Behaviors
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Unsustainable food systems in the United States warrant adjusting food consumption behaviors to help mitigate negative environmental impacts. To effectively influence pro-environmental (`green') consumption behaviors it is necessary to first understand purchasing behaviors. Existing research suggests that social normative influence is an important component in encouraging pro-environmental behavior. The Focus Theory of Normative Conduct provides insight as to the effectiveness of social normative influence. The importance of norm salience in affecting behavioral change is central to the focus theory of normative conduct. Injunctive and descriptive norms affect behavior in a variety of contexts, but only if they are salient. The purpose of my research is to identify which components of grocery shopping behaviors are perceived as important in lowering environmental impact and to determine what factors contribute to consumers' purchasing behaviors with regard to `green' grocery products. In this study I investigated the role of social norms and motivations in influencing `green' grocery purchasing choices. I sought to further the experimental findings of the focus theory of normative conduct by identifying the most influential, and thus most salient, norms in an applied setting. I interviewed consumers, asking respondents which behaviors are most important in the context of `green' consumption behavior. I used data from these interviews to construct a survey that contained questions about grocery shopping behavior, motivational factors, and descriptive and injunctive social norms. The survey was administered to customers at selected grocery stores in Washington State. Results indicate that social norms account for a significant amount of green grocery shopping behavior. Specifically, personal injunctive normative influence was a highly significant predictor of `green' grocery shopping behavior. Social injunctive norms were also significant, but the effect was less pervasive throughout the various `green' constructs. Descriptive normative influence was not a significant predictor. The results indicate that injunctive norms are salient in a `green' grocery shopping setting, while descriptive norms do not appear to be salient in this particular situation. Motivational factors (e.g., taste) were also salient predictors `green' purchasing behaviors. These results emphasize the importance of social norms in the context of `green' consumption behavior. I offer ways to use motivations and social normative influence in social marketing campaigns to increase `green' consumption behaviors and thereby lessen the environmental impact of food systems.
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