Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour through green identity labelling


Promoting products for ‘green’ people has become an important strategy to encourage sustainable consumption. We test the effectiveness of the green identity labelling technique, which encourages pro-environmental purchases by associating them with an eco-friendly image. We conducted four experiments (online, laboratory and two field experiments) in which individuals could purchase green products that, in the treatment groups, were accompanied by a green identity label (for example, ‘this product is for green shoppers’). We find that the green identity labelling technique increases purchase of environmentally friendly products across the consumer settings examined in our experiments. We also examine factors that can moderate this effect. Green identity labels increase sales only if no price discount on the green product is advertised, and they have a bigger impact on people with demographics associated with pro-environmental values.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: ‘My Store’ used in study 1 and study 2.
Fig. 2: Participants’ hypothetical choice of CFLs (study 1).
Fig. 3: Participants’ purchases of CFLs (study 2).
Fig. 4: Customers’ purchases of reusable bags (study 3).
Fig. 5: Subject lines of e-mails received by customers on a computer or mobile phone.

Data availability

All the data used in studies 1, 2 and 3 and the Stata codes for all studies are available from the corresponding author upon request. Because of a non-disclosure agreement, sample data for study 4 would require authorization by the company.


  1. Kauflin, J. The World’s Most Sustainable Companies 2017 (Forbes, 2017);

  2. Hutter, L., Capozucca, P. & Nayyar, S. A roadmap for sustainable consumption. Deloitte Rev. 7, 47–58 (2010).

  3. Sustainable Shoppers Buy the Change They Wish to See in the World (Nielsen, 2018).

  4. Sunstein, C. R. Behaviorally Informed Policy: A Brisk Progress Report (SSRN, 2019).

  5. Allcott, H. & Taubinsky, D. Evaluating behaviorally motivated policy: experimental evidence from the lightbulb market. Am. Econ. Rev. 105, 2501–2538 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Vanclay, J. K. et al. Customer response to carbon labelling of groceries. J. Consum. Policy 34, 153–160 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Vandenbroele, J., Vermeir, I., Geuens, M., Slabbinck, H. & Van Kerckhove, A. Nudging to get our food choices on a sustainable track. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 79, 133–146 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Bem, D. Self-perception theory. Adv. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 6, 1–62 (1972).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Venhoeven, L. A., Bolderdijk, J. W. & Steg, L. Why acting environmentally-friendly feels good: exploring the role of self-image. Front. Psychol. 7, 1846 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Wells, R. E. & Iyengar, S. S. Positive illusions of preference consistency: when remaining eluded by one’s preferences yields greater subjective well-being and decision outcomes. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 98, 66–87 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kraut, R. E. Effects of social labeling on giving to charity. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 9, 551–562 (1973).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Eby, B., Carrico, A. R. & Truelove, H. B. The influence of environmental identity labeling on the uptake of pro-environmental behaviors. Clim. Change 155, 563–580 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cornelissen, G., Dewitte, S., Warlop, L. & Yzerbyt, V. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I am: social labeling as a social marketing tool. Int. J. Res. Mark. 24, 278–288 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Allen, C. T. Self-Perception based strategies for stimulating energy conservation. J. Consum. Res. 8, 381–390 (1982).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Nisbett, R. & Ross, L. Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment (Prentice-Hall, 1980).

  16. Schwartz, D., Bruine de Bruin, W., Fischhoff, B. & Lave, L. Advertising energy saving programs: the potential environmental cost of emphasizing monetary savings. J. Exp. Psychol. Appl. 21, 158–166 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Frey, B. S. Motivation crowding theory. J. Econ. Surv. 15, 589–611 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Bénabou, R. & Tirole, J. Incentives and prosocial behavior. Am. Econ. Rev. 96, 1652–1678 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Frey, B. S. & Oberholzer-Gee, F. The cost of price incentives: an empirical analysis of motivation crowding-out. Am. Econ. Rev. 87, 746–755 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Gneezy, U. & Rustichini, A. Pay enough or don’t pay at all. Q. J. Econ. 115, 791–810 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Bolderdijk, J. W., Steg, L., Geller, E. S., Lehman, P. K. & Postmes, T. Comparing the effectiveness of monetary versus moral motives in environmental campaigning. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 413–416 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Drake, B. Protecting the Environment Ranks in the Middle of Public’s Priorities for 2013 (Pew Research Center, 2013).

  23. Bemporad, R. Brand Purpose in Divided Times: Four Strategies for Brand Leadership (BBMG, 2017).

  24. Prothero, A. et al. Sustainable consumption: opportunities for consumer research and public policy. J. Public Policy Mark. 30, 31–38 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. De Pelsmacker, P., Driesen, L. & Rayp, G. Do consumers care about ethics? Willingness to pay for fair-trade coffee. J. Consum. Aff. 39, 363–385 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Carrigan, M. & Attalla, A. The myth of the ethical consumer—do ethics matter in purchase behaviour? J. Consum. Mark. 18, 560–578 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Rokka, J. & Uusitalo, L. Preference for green packaging in consumer product choices—do consumers care? Int. J. Consum. Stud. 32, 516–525 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Bonini, S. & Oppenheim, J. Cultivating the green consumer. Stanford Soc. Innov. Rev. 6, 56–61 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Tiefenbeck, V. et al. Overcoming salience bias: How real-time feedback fosters resource conservation. Manage. Sci. 64, 1458–1476 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Allcott, H. & Rogers, T. The short-run and long-run effects of behavioral interventions: experimental evidence from energy conservation. Am. Econ. Rev. 104, 3003–3037 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Tiefenbeck, V., Wörner, A., Schöb, S., Fleisch, E. & Staake, T. Real-time feedback promotes energy conservation in the absence of volunteer selection bias and monetary incentives. Nat. Energy 4, 35–41 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Gromet, D. M., Kunreuther, H. & Larrick, R. P. Political ideology affects energy-efficiency attitudes and choices. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 9314–9319 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Brough, A. R., Wilkie, J. E. B., Ma, J., Isaac, M. S. & Gal, D. Is eco-friendly unmanly? The green-feminine stereotype and its effect on sustainable consumption. J. Consum. Res. 43, 567–582 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Li, T., Kauffman, R. J., van Heck, E., Vervest, P. & Dellaert, B. G. C. Consumer informedness and firm information strategy. Inf. Syst. Res. 25, 345–363 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Panzone, L., Hilton, D., Sale, L. & Cohen, D. Socio-demographics, implicit attitudes, explicit attitudes, and sustainable consumption in supermarket shopping. J. Econ. Psychol. 55, 77–95 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Meyer, A. Does education increase pro-environmental behavior? Evidence from Europe. Ecol. Econ. 116, 108–121 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Franzen, A. & Vogl, D. Two decades of measuring environmental attitudes: a comparative analysis of 33 countries. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 1001–1008 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Franzen, A. & Meyer, R. Environmental attitudes in cross-national perspective: a multilevel analysis of the ISSP 1993 and 2000. Eur. Sociol. Rev. 26, 219–234 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Gelissen, J. Explaining popular support for environmental protection. Environ. Behav. 39, 392–415 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Trayectoria del Desarrollo Humano en la Comunas de Chile 1994–2003 (PNUD, 2005).

  41. Gordon, B. R., Zettelmeyer, F., Bhargava, N. & Chapsky, D. A comparison of approaches to advertising measurement: evidence from big field experiments at facebook. Mark. Sci. 38, 193–225 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Milkman, K. L., Beshears, J., Choi, J. J., Laibson, D. & Madrian, B. C. Using implementation intentions prompts to enhance influenza vaccination rates. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 10415–10420 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  43. Allcott, H. Social norms and energy conservation. J. Public Econ. 95, 1082–1095 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Benartzi, S. et al. Should governments invest more in nudging? Psychol. Sci. 28, 1041–1055 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Loewenstein, G. & Chater, N. Putting nudges in perspective. Behav. Public Policy 1, 26–53 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Schwartz, D., Milfont, T. L. & Hilton, D. in A Research Agenda for Economic Psychology (eds Kirchler, E. & Gangl, K.) Ch. 7 (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019).

  47. Galizzi, M. M. & Navarro-Martinez, D. On the external validity of social preference games: a systematic lab–field study. Manag. Sci. 65, 976–1002 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Schwartz, D., Keenan, E. A., Imas, A. & Gneezy, A. Opting-in to prosocial incentives. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Tuomi, H. Paper or plastic? A comparison of the carbon emissions of grocery bags. In Undergraduate Research Symposium 2017 (Univ. Minnesota Morris Digital Well, 2017);

  50. Elijošiutė, E., Balciukevičiūtė, J. & Denafas, G. Life cycle assessment of compact fluorescent and incandescent lamps: comparative analysis. Environ. Res. Eng. Manag. 61, 65–72 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Paolacci, G., Jesse, C. & Ipeirotis, P. G. Running experiments on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Judgm. Decis. Mak. 5, 411–419 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  52. Lastovicka, J. L., Bettencourt, L. A., Hughner, R. S. & Kuntze, R. J. Lifestyle of the tight and frugal: theory and measurement. J. Consum. Res. 26, 85–98 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Dunlap, R. E., Van Liere, K. D., Mertig, A. G. & Jones, R. E. New trends in measuring environmental attitudes: measuring endorsement of the new ecological paradigm: a revised NEP scale. J. Soc. Issues 56, 425–442 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Rick, S. I., Cryder, C. E. & Loewenstein, G. Tightwads and spendthrifts. J. Consum. Res. 34, 767–782 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Ayres, I., Raseman, S. & Shih, A. Evidence from two large field experiments that peer comparison feedback can reduce residential energy usage. J. Law Econ. Organ. 29, 992–1022 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Myers, E. & Souza, M. Social Comparison Nudges without Monetary Incentives: Evidence from Home Energy Reports Working Paper 041 (E2e, 2018).

  57. Inman, J. J., McAlister, L. & Hoyer, W. D. Promotion signal: proxy for a price cut? J. Consum. Res. 17, 74–81 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Krishna, A., Briesch, R., Lehmann, D. R. & Yuan, H. A meta-analysis of the impact of price presentation on perceived savings. J. Retail. 78, 101–118 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Segunda Encuesta Nacional de Medio Ambiente (Ministerio del Medio Ambiente, 2016).

  60. Rubin, K. The ultimate list of email SPAM trigger words. HubSpot (2017).

  61. Myles, S. Email Open Rate Woes: Why Not to be Fooled by Email Open Rate (Calameo, 2011).

  62. Drèze, X. & Hussherr, F.-X. Internet advertising: is anybody watching? J. Interact. Mark. 17, 8–23 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank U. Simonsohn and seminar participants at ESADE, Universitat Ramon Lull, participants in the management seminar series at Pompeu Fabra University, and seminar participants at the SDS Department, Carnegie Mellon University, for helpful feedback on this project. We also thank J. Joo and J. Gonzalez for their collaboration in the implementation in the field studies. D.S. was supported by the ANID FONDECYT 1191745 and by the Complex Engineering Systems Institute (ANID APOYO/BASAL AFB180003).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



D.S. and G.L. conceived and designed the experiments; D.S. and L.A.-G. performed the experiments; D.S. analysed the data and L.A.-G. assisted in some studies; D.S., G.L. and L.A.-G. contributed materials/analysis tools; and D.S. and G.L. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel Schwartz.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

List of variables collected and additional analyses for all studies.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Schwartz, D., Loewenstein, G. & Agüero-Gaete, L. Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour through green identity labelling. Nat Sustain 3, 746–752 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing