Citizens Of The (Green) World? Cosmopolitan Orientation And Sustainability

Green World Klein

By dr. Amir Grinstein and dr. Petra Riefler

Environmental degradation has become one of society’s key concerns. At the same time, despite widespread pro-environmental attitudes, consumers frequently purchase non-environmentally friendly goods or exhibit non-environmentally friendly behaviour. Indeed, globally, green products account for less than 4% of the market share. Persuading consumers to act in an environmentally responsible manner is therefore an issue of growing importance and a key goal for many businesses, governments and society at large.

A second trend relates to increased globalization, which, accompanied by societal and technological developments, has led to the emergence of an influential and growing segment of cosmopolitan consumers. Consumer cosmopolitan orientation describes the extent to which a consumer (1) exhibits an openminded attitude towards foreign \ and cultures, (2) appreciates the diversity created by the availability of products from different national and cultural origins, and (3) is positively disposed towards consuming products from foreign countries.

This dual consideration reveals two particularly interesting and yet untapped research questions to which we lack intuitive answers. First, the stance of cosmopolitan consumers toward sustainability – in the form of environmentally responsible behaviour and sustainable consumption – is unclear. On the one hand, cosmopolitan consumers’ inherent tendencies toward cross-national lifestyles and consumption habits are likely to have an environmental downside. On the other hand, some indications suggest the opposite. For example, cosmopolitan consumers are typically well-educated, financially affluent and early adopters of new (including green) technologies. In sum, the relationship between consumer cosmopolitanism and sustainability presents conflicting expectations, which this paper will address.

The second research question refers to the effective framing of environmental messages targeting cosmopolitan consumers, and specifically the question of whether global or local framing is more effective. A global frame involves a message that emphasizes environmental issues and the need for action as a worldwide (i.e., global) topic; a local frame involves a message that emphasizes environmental issues and the need for action as a closer-tohome and place-specific (i.e., local) topic. The public discourse often frames sustainability and environmental issues in global terms (e.g. ‘global warming,’ ‘Earth Day’). For example, a keyword search in the New York Times archive resulted in 25,000 hits for ‘global environmental concerns’ and only 13,800 hits for ‘local environmental concerns’. Similarly, many environmental slogans that aim to motivate sustainable, responsible or ‘green’ behaviour are globally framed (e.g., ‘Don’t litter, it makes the world bitter!’ or ‘Protect our earth today for our children’s tomorrow’).

As an example, on ThinkSlogans.com, 31 of a total of 106 environmental slogans include the terms global/earth/world/planet, whereas not a single slogan includes terms such as local/ region/town/community/country. On the one hand, the global framing of environmental messages resonates well with current public discourse and might match the global reference frame of cosmopolitan consumers. On the other hand, recent social psychology and environmental research suggests that local framing is more effective in inducing environmentally responsible behaviour, because local topics prompt more interest and action due to the fact that they are an immediate concern for consumers. In turn, this latter line of argument can resonate well with the tendency of cosmopolitan consumers to maintain not only a global frame, but also involvement with the local environment. Against this background, we investigate the effectiveness of two highly relevant but conflicting environmental messages – one framed globally, and one locally – aimed at cosmopolitan consumers.

In a series of one survey and three experimental studies conducted in three countries, we empirically examine (a) the influence of cosmopolitan orientation on environmental concerns and sustainable behaviour, (b) the effectiveness of globally versus locally framed environmental messages on the sustainable behaviour of cosmopolitan consumers, and (c) the moderating role of local identity on the effectiveness of globally versus locally framed environmental messages as a boundary condition. In short, Study 1 shows that cosmopolitan consumers tend to be more concerned about environmental issues and behave more sustainably than non-cosmopolitan consumers. In Study 2, we show that it is only among consumers with especially high cosmopolitan orientation that a globally framed environmental message is the most effective for inducing purchase intentions for an environmentally friendly, low-involvement product; whereas for consumers with moderate levels of cosmopolitan orientation, locally and globally framed messages are similarly effective. In Study 3, we change the manipulation and replicate the above finding for a different outcome variable (willingness to pay, WTP) in a high-involvement product category. Finally, in Study 4, we approximate actual behaviour by examining the influence of global/local framing on joining a pro-environmental Facebook group. Further, in the latter study, we demonstrate the moderating effect of local identity on the effectiveness of globally versus locally framed environmental messages about donating money to support an environmentally friendly initiative; in particular, priming the local identity of highcosmopolitan consumers makes the locally framed message more effective than the globally framed version. In sum, this paper intends to contribute to the consumer cosmopolitanism literature and the environmental marketing field. Our findings emphasize the key role of consumers’ cosmopolitan orientation for explaining environmental behaviour and sustainable consumption, as well as the effectiveness of globally versus locally framed environmental communication. Importantly, we reveal that the effectiveness of the intuitively appealing approach of framing environmental topics as global to achieve compliance among cosmopolitan consumers is contingent on the level of consumers’ cosmopolitan orientation and their local-identity salience. Furthermore, by investigating marketing-relevant outcomes such as purchase intentions or WTP, we aim to make an important contribution to other experimental studies on the effectiveness of environmental messages, which focus only on environmental outcomes such as recycling behaviour. Finally, this research intends to assist businesses, NGOs and governments by first, demonstrating that cosmopolitan consumer segments are promising not only for conventional marketing campaigns but also for environmental marketing purposes; and, second, providing insights into the effective design of messages to promote sustainable behaviour among the cosmopolitan segment.

For further inquiries about the research project, please contact Dr. Amir Grinstein, a.grinstein@vu.nl.