Deception aversion and consumer responses to sustainability initiatives
24 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2020 Last revised: 19 Oct 2020
Date Written: October 18, 2020
Companies face increasing pressure to contribute towards a sustainable future while simultaneously providing shareholder value. However, the public may respond negatively to “win-win” initiatives that benefit the environment if they also bring the corporation financial gains. A proposed mechanism for this backlash effect is the violation of communal relationship norms that companies invoke when communicating their win-win initiatives to the public. Here, we demonstrate the backlash effect arises from the alternative mechanism of deception aversion. Companies are evaluated negatively when their actions differ from those implied by their stated pro-environmental policy. We show that earning a profit per se does not undermine sustainability initiatives. But if companies are seen to deceive the public about those initiatives, they are likely to suffer a backlash, whether they earn a profit or not.
Keywords: deception, win-win initiatives, sustainability, profit
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