Study finds messaging matters when it comes to recycling

Study finds messaging matters when it comes to recycling

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

A new academic study on recycling behavior found that tailoring messages about recycling to one's political beliefs helps gain traction for increased participation in recycling programs.

The purpose of the study, "Getting Liberals and Conservatives to Go Green: Political Ideology and Congruent Appeals," was to see if targeted messaging to both sides of the political spectrum would increase participation in recycling and other environmentally-friendly behaviors.

"Given the sharp differences in attitudes toward sustainability, surprisingly little attention has been paid to understanding how to appeal to differences in political orientation in order to influence recycling," wrote authors Blair Kidwell (Ohio State University), Adam Farmer and David Hardesty (both University of Kentucky). "Unique appeals targeted to liberals and conservatives may be more effective at getting them to adopt environmentally conscious behaviors."

The authors of the Journal of Consumer Research-published study found that different messages for self-identified liberals and conservatives mattered. In one part of the study, consumers were asked about their recycling intentions after reading various appeals. Consumers who identify as liberals were found to be more eager to recycle when the focus was on fairness, the general good and reducing harm — "because you know it's the right thing to do," "care for others and allow the greatest good to come to our society" and "reduce the harm to others and to the environment."

Meanwhile, consumers who call themselves conservatives were more likely want to recycle when appeals to participate in recycling included phrases focusing on duty and authority and a "conservative's sense of in-group affiliation" — "with those like you in your community," "do our civic duty because recycling is the responsible thing to do in our society," and "follow the advice of important leaders."

In another part of the study, conservatives were found to respond to patriotic images, while liberals responded to an appeal displaying a well-known charity, Habitat for Humanity.

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