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ISSN : 2287-1063(Print)
ISSN : (Online)
The Journal of Advertising and Promotion Research Vol.4 No.2 pp.5-33

Normative Beliefs and Intentions to Pay More for Green Products : Application of Extended Norm Activation Model

Ilwoo Ju, Jinhee Lee, Jin Seong Park*
Department of Communication Saint Louis University
School of Advertising & Public Relations University of Tennessee-Knoxville
Department of Mass Communication Incheon National University
*Corresponding author E-mail address :


In response to the ever-increasing attention to green consumption, the current study examines the influences of consumers’ perceived environmental norms regarding three major social agents (individual, industry, and government) on their willingness to pay a premium for green products. The analysis of the Simmons National Consumer Study data obtained during the period of 2009 to 2012 revealed the mechanism in which such norms exert influences on consumers’ willingness to pay more for green products through the mediating role of intention to purchase products from an environmentally responsible company. Theoretical, managerial, and consumer education implications are discussed.



Over the last decade, consumers’ environmental concerns have rapidly grown (Richey, Musgrove, Gillison, and Gabler 2014). Accordingly, the demand for sustainable product development and consumption has increased (Richey et al. 2014). The share of respondents who reported being dedicated to purchasing green products increased by six percent from 2012 to 2013, and four in ten consumers, equivalent to approximately 93 million Americans, expressed that they are Super/True Greens (Mitchell 2014). During the period of 2006-2013, product introductions with green claims have increased 40 times from 0.5% to 20.2% (Mitchell 2014).

This society-wide movement to protect the environment takes various dimensions from individuals’ normative behaviors to other social agents’ collaborative endeavors (Pedersen and Neergaard 2006; Stern, Dietz, Guagnano, and Kalof 1999; Sandhu, Ozanne, Smallman, and Cullen 2010). However, while normative self-role perception has been found to affect consumers’ green purchase behavior (e.g., Abdul-Muhmin 2007; Laroche, Bergeron, and Barbaro-Forleo 2001), little empirical research has examined how consumers’ expectations about other social agents’ normative roles influence their green purchase behavior (Collins, Steg, and Koning 2007; Choi and Ng 2011). Considering that environmental protection is no easy task that can be accomplished through individual efforts alone, examining how other members’ pro-environmental roles affect consumers’ green purchase decisions may provide useful insights into green consumerism.

In an attempt to address this research agenda, Stern, Dietz, and Black (1985/1986) extended Schwartz’s (1973; 1977) norm activation model that focused more on personal pro-social norms, and additionally included norms about other stakeholders, such as the industry and the government, as their collaborative pro-environmental efforts are also deemed necessary for improving the environment. This extended framework can contribute to better understanding the dynamics of consumer behavior in the green marketing context. Green marketers’ strategic planning may benefit from the adaptation of the extended framework, and the government’s regulatory initiative will also gain momentum based on convincing evidence from consumer research.

The purpose of the current study is to examine the influences of consumers’ normative expectations about three major social agents’ pro-environmental responsibilities (personal norms, company’s responsibility, governmental regulation) on their willingness to pay more for green products. The study will also examine the mediating role of intention to purchase green products from an environmentally responsible company. To achieve these goals, the current study utilizes the Simmons National Consumer Survey data collected during the period of 2009 to 2012. The findings of this study will provide insights into green marketing strategies, consumer education, and government regulation.



Literature Review

Extended Norm Activation Model for Green Purchase Behavior

The idea of sustainable consumption has increasingly diffused into the US consumer culture (Dagher and Itan 2012; Pedersen and Neergaard 2006). Consumers’ purchase decisions have been found to be largely influenced by their normative role-expectations regarding the environment (Moisander 2007). In light of this view, the extended norm activation model (Stern et al. 1985/1986) added two important dimensions of consumers’ normative role expectations in addition to the personal normative dimension: the industry’s responsibility and the government’s regulatory role. In this section, the extended norm activation model is addressed with a focus on the three aspects of normative role expectations in terms of their application to the green consumption context.

Schwartz’s (1977) initial norm activation model focused on how individuals’ pro-social behaviors result from their personal normative perceptions regarding a socially important issue. According to the model, individuals are more likely to act in a pro-social way when they are aware of the social issue and believe that their behavior will lead to different consequences (Schwartz 1977). Applied to the green consumption context, the view signals that when one believes that each individual is responsible for protecting the environment and should behave in accordance with that responsibility, such a belief may be a critical determinant of green purchase (Cialdini, Reno, and Kallgren 1990).

However, norms may have more than one meaning (Shaffer 1983). The literature suggests a useful dichotomy: descriptive norms (the norms of is) and injunctive norms (the norms of ought) (Kallgren, Reno, and Cialdini 2000). While the former simply involves individuals’ awareness of norms, the latter highlights their volitional behavioral choices to comply with their beliefs. With regard to green purchase behavior, injunctive norms are especially important because they could operate across a wider range of contexts and are stronger than descriptive ones (Kallgren et al. 2000). Therefore, injunctive pro-environmental norms may encourage consumers’ pro-environmental purchase. This operational connection between perceived injunctive norms and corresponding behaviors are called a norm activation process (Harland, Staats, and Wilke 2007).

Building on the literature, the central premise of the extended norm activation model is that individuals’ ascription of pro-social responsibility to themselves as well as other social agents may have consequences for their green consumption behavior (Joireman, Lasane, Bennett, Richards, and Solaimani 2001). This may be especially true when considering that protecting the environment requires collective goals across various social members. In that regard, the extended framework captures the realms of personal, social, and political norms (Stern et al. 1985/1986). The current study builds on this framework and suggests that green purchase behavior may be better understood in the larger social context in which not only individuals but also the industry and the government gain legitimacy. The extended perspective represents a dialectic social-psychological process in which individual norms give rise to social change and social events and forces which affect individual moral judgment reciprocally (Stern et al. 1985/1986).



Personal Norms (PN)

Personal norms (PN) in the green marketing context refer to the extent to which consumers perceive that they ought to behave pro-environmentally (Granzin and Olsen 1991; Fransson and Garling 1999). Schwartz’s (1977) norm activation model distinguished personal norms from behavioral intentions because the former addresses individuals’ evaluation of behavior in light of their moral values to the self, whereas behavioral intentions refer to judgments based on material, social, and psychological payoffs (Harland et al. 1999). Furthermore, personal norms are deemed conceptually distinct from social norms because they are located in the self (Harland et al. 1999).

Depending on the level of PN, the likelihood to purchase green products will vary (Granzin and Olsen 1991; Pickett, Kangun and Grove 1993). Those high in PN are more likely to seek pro-environmental consumption behaviors (De Groot and Steg 2009; Stern et al. 1999). Fransson and Gärling (1999) and Leonidou, Leonidou, Kvasova (2010) found that a greater level of PN increased consumers’ general green purchase intention and behavior. Given that injunctive norm perceptions lead individuals to choose corresponding behaviors (Kallgren et al. 2000), high PN consumers are more likely to seek products from an environmentally responsible company, because they may believe that using the company’s products will be more responsible for the environment. Furthermore, those with high PN are more likely to pay extra money for green products, as they may believe that their monetary investment contributes to the protection of the environment. Based on this reasoning, the following hypotheses can be posited:

H1: PN will be positively associated with consumers’ intention to purchase products from an environmentally responsible company.


H2: PN will be positively associated with consumers’ willingness to pay more for green products.


Corporate Norms (CN)

Corporate norms (CN) are defined as individuals’ normative expectations about a company’s efforts for green process and product orientations (Sandhu et al. 2010). To be more specific, green process orientation means an attempt to prevent environmental pollution in the manufacturing process, while green product orientation indicates an effort to produce environment-friendly products (Sandhu et al. 2010). Green consumers may expect companies to help them consume with environmental responsibility. Research found that high CN consumers evaluated pro-environmental companies more favorably than did low CN consumers (Collins et al. 2007). In a similar vein, such consumers evaluated companies using recycled material and conserving energy more favorably than companies that seek to reduce a production cost (Choi and Ng 2011). Furthermore, pro-environmental consumers are more likely to buy organic vegetables, organic fruits, and eco-friendly cleaning agents (Collins et al. 2007). The literature indicates that consumers’ greater normative expectations about a company’s pro-environmental role will lead to increased intention to purchase products from an environmentally responsible company. By the same token, higher CN will result in greater willingness to pay more for green products. Therefore, the following hypotheses can be formulated:


H3: CN will be positively associated with consumers’ intention to purchase products from an environmentally responsible company.


H4: CN will be positively associated with consumers’ willingness to pay more for green products.


Regulatory Norms (RN)

Regulatory norms (RN) refer to consumers’ normative expectations about the government's regulatory role. The regulatory intervention for a sustainable marketplace has increased in its importance because environmental protection requires organized government-initiated support (Kemp, Brandon and Smith 1997). Today, consumers increasingly perceive environmental protection as an important governmental responsibility (Muldoon 2006). In response to this expectation, governments are exerting considerable efforts to encourage pro-environmental business practices and green consumption (Sinnappan and Rahman 2011; Tsen, Phang, Hasan, and Buncha 2006).

Those who believe that governmental regulation for the environment is necessary may have greater green purchase intention from an environmentally responsible company (Berger and Corbin 1992). In Rahbar and Wahid’s study (2010), Malaysian consumers’ expectations for the government’s environmental regulation were found to be positively associated with their green product purchase intention. The literature indicates that to the extent that individuals believe that the government’s regulatory efforts should be exercised against environmentally harmful products, they are more likely to intend to purchase products from an environmentally responsible company (Muldoon 2006; Moisander, Markkula, and Eräranta 2010) and spend more money for green products. Therefore, the following hypotheses can be raised:


H5:RN will be positively associated with consumers’ intention to purchase products from an environmentally responsible company.

H6: RN will be positively associated with consumers’ willingness to pay more for green products.


The Mediating Role of Green Purchase Intention

Consumers’ green purchase behavior has been widely measured with general purchase intention to buy green products (Steg and Groot 2010). Despite its utility as a proxy measure of green purchase behavior, however, to expand the scope of green purchase research, this study differentiates two nuanced measures of consumers’ green purchase behavior: intention to purchase products from an environmentally responsible company (PI) and willingness to pay more for green products (WPM). In particular, this study probes the mediating role of PI between green norms and WPM, because examining PI may provide insights into how corporate environmental responsibility (CER) can contribute to enhancing company revenues, through redeeming the company’s financial investment on green-oriented operating and manufacturing processes.

Although consumers often assert that they are willing to pay more for green products in general (Rowlands, Scott, and Parker 2003; Sandhu et al 2010), prior studies have treated PI and WPM without a clear distinction. Practically speaking, the latter may represent a stronger commitment to green purchase than PI, because it signifies individuals’ more enthusiastic role expectation that their extra monetary commitment can be effective for reducing environmental destruction (Cleveland et al. 2012).

Following this reasoning, while PI may provide insights into the importance of CER in green marketing, WPM may illuminate a possibility to improve a company’s return on investment (ROI) through its commitment to environmental responsibility. If companies can benefit from their environment-friendly efforts in terms of revenues, they can continue such endeavors from a long-term perspective. This has an important implication for the industry-wide green movement. Companies are expected to meet the changing needs of society only when such actions do not jeopardize fiscal sustainability. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that consumers’ intention to buy products from an environmentally responsible company may be a pre-requisite for their commitment to pay extra for such products (Laroche et al. 2001). If companies can expect this behavioral path, green investment will not necessarily involve an erosion of financial accountability.

Little research has examined these behavioral indicators (PI and WPM) in regard to green norms, despite their subtle differences. In the absence of research that examined the indirect path from green norms to WPM through PI, the findings of this study will provide useful insights into understanding green consumerism, CER, and governmental regulation. Therefore, building upon previous green marketing research (e.g., Chang 2011; Chan and Lau 2000; Follows and Jobber 2000), the current study conceptualized PI as a mediator of the green norm effects on WPM (see Figure 1). This reasoning leads to the following hypothesis:


H7: PI will mediate the effects of pro-environmental norms on WPM, such that PI will positively mediate the effects of (a) PN, (b) CN, and (c) RN on WPM, respectively.






Experian Simmons National Consumer Study Data

A secondary data analysis was conducted using the Experian Simmons National Consumer Study (NCS) data, provided by Simmons OneView for the period of 2009 to 2012. Although this resource has been primarily utilized by industry professionals, given its versatility, researchers’ attention has recently increased (e.g., Harmon 2001; Hoy and Childers 2012). The data provide responses from a sample of approximately 25,000 adults in the U.S. each year. Considering that the current study pooled the cross-sectional data from four years, the total sample size for analysis was about 100,000. Experian Simmons collects data with a two-step approach. In Step 1, a telephone or a mail-based recruitment is implemented. In Step 2, self-administered survey booklets are mailed to eligible household members who agree to participate (Experian Simmons 2015). The booklets cover a wide range of survey items including consumer lifestyles, media usage, and attitudes toward various topics (Experian Simmons 2015). Because the electronic platform of Simmons OneView provides aggregate-level data, the data were deconstructed by means of a filtering procedure suggested by Park and Hoy (2015).


Descriptive Statistics and Measures

All items included in the section “Lifestyle Statements: Attitudes/ Opinions-About the Environment” of the NCS booklet were carefully reviewed, and relevant items were selected. Respondents checked on five-point scales (1 = disagree a lot, 5 = agree a lot) to indicate their agreement with the following statements regarding their environmental concerns: (a) “Each of us has a personal obligation to do what we can to be environmentally responsible,” measuring personal norms (PPN, M = 4.30, SD = .89); (b) “Companies should help consumers become more environmentally responsible,” measuring corporate norms (PCN, M = 3.94, SD = .97); (c) “All products that pollute the environment should be banned,” measuring regulatory norms (PGN, M = 3.24, SD = 1.20); (d) “I am more likely to purchase a product or service from a company that is environmentally friendly,” measuring general purchase intention (M = 3.78, SD = 1.01); and (e) “I would be prepared to pay more for environmentally-friendly products,” measuring willingness to pay a premium for green products (M = 3.11, SD = 1.14). Table 1 presents the descriptive results and a correlation matrix of the variables. Given the moderate to low correlations across the independent variables, collinearity would not threaten the coefficient estimates. No independent variables had a VIF score greater than 10, and no tolerance statistics were below .2.






Hypothesis Tests

To test the hypotheses, hierarchical pooled cross-sectional analyses were built to examine the incremental contribution of each independent variable to the dependent variables. Two dependent variables (green purchase intention and willingness to pay premium) were regressed on the three individual variables in sequence. In the first block, the year dummy variables were entered, and PPN, PCN, and PGN were entered in subsequent blocks in turn. The results are summarized in Table 2.





The coefficient of PPN was positive and statistically significant on green purchase intention (β = .23, p < .001) as well as willingness to pay a premium (β = .06, p < .001), supporting H1 and H2. In support of H3 and H4, respondents with higher PCN reported greater purchase intention (β = .45, p < .001) and willingness to pay a premium (β = .22, p < .001). As to H5 and H6, the more respondents perceived that the governmental regulation on products that pollute the environment is critical, the higher their purchase intention (β = .11, p < .001) and willingness to pay a premium (β = .32, p < .001) were, providing support for both hypotheses.

The bias-corrected bootstrap approach (Hayes 2013) was employed to examine the indirect effects of green purchase intention between three pro-environmental norms and willingness to pay a premium respectively. There was a significant indirect effect of PPN on willingness to pay a premium through purchase intention, b = .03, SE = .00, BCa CI [.0204, .0334]. In the same vein, CN, b = .04, SE = 00, BCa CI [.0317, .0472], and RN, b = .01, SE = 00, BCa CI [.0060, .0153] were also indirectly related to willingness to pay a premium through purchase intention. Given that the direct effects of each independent variable was significant on willingness to pay a premium, the results showed that purchase intention was a complementary mediator for PPN, PCN, and PGN (Zhao, Lynch, and Chen 2010), supporting H7a, H7b, and H7c. These results indicated that the findings were consistent with the research framework of this study. However, there could be potential mediators that need to be additionally examined in the paths (Zhao et al. 2010) between PPN/PCN/PGN and willingness to pay a premium respectively.




The purpose of this study was to examine the influences of consumers’ pro-environmental norms about major social agents on their willingness to pay more for green products as well as intention to purchase products from an environment-friendly company. The findings were in alignment with extant research on green consumerism, and also added to the literature by addressing understudied dimensions of pro-environmental norms (i.e., CN and RN) beyond personal norms. When consumers expected environmental responsibilities of a company and the government to a greater extent, they were more likely to pay for a price premium through increased green product purchase intention from pro-environmental companies. In particular, this study provided convincing evidence regarding the relationships between green norms and green purchase behavior based on a representative national consumer survey data throughout a longitudinal period. Given that little green marketing research has examined the green norm effects on purchase behavior using such a representative sample, this study may provide merits to not only green consumerism researchers but also green marketing professionals.


Theoretical Implications

This study makes a noteworthy contribution to the theory of green purchase behavior. First, this study addressed two understudied dimensions of green norms: a company’s environmental responsibility and the government’s regulatory support. While Schwartz’s (1977) norm activation model focused more on the role of personal norms to explain pro-social behaviors, the significant effects of consumers’ role expectations about the other two social agents provided support for the extended norm activation model (Stern et al. 1985/1986) that served as the current research framework.

Furthermore, a series of bias-corrected bootstrapping mediation tests confirmed that PN/CN/RN all had significant complimentary mediation effects on WPM through the PI respectively. Zhao et al. (2010) noted that this pattern of effects implies that the proposed theoretical framework is consistent with the data, supporting the mediation hypotheses. However, there could be potentially important but omitted intervening variables in the direct path between environmental norms and willingness to pay a premium in addition to purchase intention. Therefore, it is worth considering other mediating variables in future research.

To reveal the black box in the green purchase decision making process, a couple of useful perspectives can be adopted from the literature on corporate social responsibility (CSR). First, CSR research suggests that individuals’ purchase decisions are affected by how they ascribe social responsibility to other social members such as a company (van de Pol and de Bakker 2010). As stakeholders, consumers may regard a company’s social responsibility as an important qualification and expect the balance between corporate and social interests (van de Pol and de Bakker 2010). In the green purchase context, consumers’ expected industrial role may come into play in their decision making process. This premise of CSR is consistent with the current study’s finding in that when consumers perceived that a company should be environmentally responsible, they were more likely to purchase green products from the company and in turn pay more for them. Therefore, a company’s green-friendly image should be considered an important pre-requisite for enhancing purchase intention. Based on the literature, CN will serve as a general baseline for WPM, but consumers’ perception about a company’s green reputation (or image) will be a potentially omitted mediator between the green norms and WPM. More research is needed to address this idea.

Second, consumers’ cognitive schema variables regarding the green marketplace may play a role in the green purchase decision process as moderators (Davis 1994). For instance, consumers’ skeptical marketplace beliefs could affect their green purchase decision (Albayrak, Caber, Mountinho, and Herstein 2011; Zinkhan and Carlson 1995). Although many marketers claim that they exert considerable efforts to protect the environment, consumers may attribute such claims to companies’ desire to sell products. When consumers’ green marketing skepticism is high, it may reduce the green norm effects on green purchase (Obermiller, Spangenberg, and MacLachlan, 2005). Considering this, researchers should conduct a program of research to examine various consumer factors to better understand a wide range of boundary conditions of the green norm effects.

Third, as to PGN, the complimentary mediating effects also raise a need for further investigation on the collective social efforts for the environment. As noted, the literature has suggested that consumers' pro-environmental norms consist of not only personal but also industrial and governmental aspects (Rahbar and Wahid 2010). Research shows that the government’s pro-environmental commitment may trigger consumers’ attention to pro-environmental behaviors (Berger and Corbin 1992). Furthermore, the government-initiated environmental regulation over the industry practices may help consumers feel safer with their green product consumption (Sinnappan and Rahman 2011; Tsen et al. 2006). Given this, to encourage consumers’ pro-environmental purchase behavior, both the government’s regulatory role and a company’s voluntary compliance are important. Empirical research evidence for this theoretical reasoning is warranted.


Managerial Implications

Green marketers may benefit from the current research findings. First, this study echoes what the green marketing literature has generally suggested. Marketers need to inform consumers about their pro-environmental commitment through various marketing communication channels such as advertisements, public relations, and product packages. Green consumers’ awareness of the company’s green efforts will enhance their intention to purchase the company’s products and pay more for them. However, for this goal to be achieved, a company may need to establish and maintain their green image first.

To this end, a coherent green message through the aforementioned communication channels is essential. For instance, the use of brand logos that enhance green image, product labels that highlight environment-friendly product attributes, and product recycle symbols have been found to improve consumers' responses to the ad (D'Souza and Taghian 2005). In addition, to enhance message credibility, marketers can present a certified third-party endorsement (e.g., seal) or phrases such as “USDA Certified Organic,” or “EPA/ISO Certified.” Direct green indicators may include ‘sustainable,’ ‘recyclable,’ and ‘biodegradable.’ For those who have higher green norms, these message strategies will be effective to enhance a company’s green image.


Consumer Education Implications

A couple of consumer implications deserve mention for the sustainable green marketplace. First, the government's regulatory supports may promote consumers’ pro-environmental consumption. Given that consumers’ perceived expectations about the government’s regulation exerted significant influences on their green purchase intentions, the government needs to provide more specific regulatory guidelines to green marketers. In this regard, consumers need to be informed about whether deceptive or misleading green claims are effectively banned by regulation. This is especially important as consumers are increasingly skeptical about green product claims (Albayrak et al. 2011). Furthermore, considering that the government’s regulation of all products in the marketplace is unrealistic, complementary third-party verification programs can be utilized in order to encourage consumers’ green consumption.

Green consumption may be beneficial for not only marketers but also the government and consumers. The major social stakeholders of green marketplace must consider the long-term benefits of green consumption rather than short-term outcomes. Sustainable marketplace may be a critical investment for the industry as well as the other social agents, because a collaborative initiative to protect the environment is social capital that requires a partnership of individuals, the industry, and the government to create value and change on a global scale. For this goal, all the stakeholders in the green marketplace need to cooperate with each other to gain social legitimacy.


Limitations and Avenues for Future Research

Some limitations warrant mention. The current study employed a nationally representative NCS data collected during a four-year period. Little academic research has been conducted to probe a theory-driven green consumption phenomenon by using such data. However, such national survey datasets typically employ single measurement items to assess consumers’ attitudes and opinions regarding particular topics. A concern may be raised about this approach due to a lack of information regarding measurement reliability. In the absence of validated multi-item scales for PN/CN/RN, the current study used single measures. However, given the limitation of measurement, this study is considered a preliminary investigation to conduct a theory-based green consumption investigation. Second, the survey item analysis cannot establish a causal relationship between the green norms and green purchase intentions. Readers of this study must exercise caution in interpreting the relationships among variables. Last, this study did not examine a specific green consumption context to provide general perspectives. The framework of this study can be examined across various green product categories (e.g., recycling, energy saving, and organic products) and cultural contexts (e.g., individualistic versus collectivistic contexts). For instance, consumers’ different cultural orientations may lead to varying consumer responses to green issues. Collectivistic consumers are more likely to involve green behavior because they are more likely to view protecting the environment as a collective social task (e.g., Chan 2001; Kim and Choi 2005). Addressing these avenues through various behavioral theories and methodological approaches will contribute to expand the scope of green consumption research.




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