With the deterioration of the ecological environment, people gradually realize their responsibility for environmental damage [1
] and are more and more willing to engage in pro-environmental behavior (PEB) [2
]. As a result, the issue of consumers’ PEB has become topical. Evidence of this may be seen in the case of organic products, whose global market size has grown almost from zero to US $
72 billion during the past 30 years [3
]. At the same time, the pursuit of well-being is an everlasting goal for human beings. PEB can both reduce negative emotions and promote positive emotions [4
]. However, some scholars have argued that consumers can not perceive heightened states of well-being when engaging in PEB, as eco-friendly behaviors are often associated with some extra cost, and even involves some degree of discomfort [1
]. In opposition to the negative view of PEB, other scholars have found that PEB can increase consumers’ life satisfaction and perceived well-being (PWB) [6
]. These inconsistent findings provide further research space.
In addition to the foregoing, previous research has found some mediating variables to bridge PEB and consumers’ PWB. For example, some scholars have found that engaging in PEB brings about a warm glow that can subsequently increase consumers’ life satisfaction and PWB [7
]; other scholars found that the relationship between PEB and PWB is mediated by consumers’ green self-image [11
]. Consistent with self-determination theory (SDT) [12
], PEB as an ethical behavior, altruistic behavior, and pro-social behavior naturally has the property of connecting with others. In addition, green products usually have a certain price premium level, so PEB can show consumers’ economic capability to afford the cost of environmental protection. Yet, when PEB is not a free choice, consumer’s autonomy need cannot be satisfied. Compared with warm glow theory and self-image theory, SDT may be a more fundamental reason to uncover the chain effect of PEP on well-being through consumers’ self-determination need satisfaction (SDNS). Weinstein and Ryan [13
], for example, found that pro-social behaviors (e.g., PEB) can influence consumers’ PWB through the path of these basic psychological needs satisfactions.
Whether SDNS is the path from PEP to consumers’ PWB or not is still unclear [11
]. Thus, the current research applies SDT to explore why engaging in PEB may actually promote consumers’ sense of well-being. We propose that preference to engage in PEB in general satisfies consumers’ self-determination needs, which in turn improves their well-being. Specifically, PEP will increase well-being perception if consumers’ competence need, relatedness need, or autonomy need is satisfied. Besides, prior literature indicates that consumers prefer to perform pro-environmental behaviors when they can gain positive emotions (e.g., well-being) from these behaviors [14
]. Therefore, our findings not only can provide theoretical insights into the path from PEP to well-being but can also be of benefit to motivate the maintenance of PEBs over time.
The rest of the paper is arranged as follows. First, there is a discussion of the theoretical background to the study, which includes a discussion of the central constructs under investigation (PEP; SDT, with its focus on needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy; and consumers’ PWB). Following is a development of the hypotheses and the conceptual model linking PEP to consumers’ PWB. Next, the methodology section describes how the study was conducted, and this precedes a discussion of the results and implications. Finally, a discussion of research limitations and future research directions are presented.
4.1. Data Collection
Respondents for this research were recruited from WJX, which is the most prominent Chinese online data collection platform. Because PEP can be a sensitive topic, all the participants answered the questionnaire anonymously. The data collection yielded a total of 514 valid questionnaires. Although 39 respondents indicated that Type A is more eco-friendly and 120 respondents indicated that Type A is more expensive, keeping them in or out of the analysis did not significantly influence the result. In these 514 valid questionnaires, some 38% of the respondents were male, and 62% were female. On average, the participants were 26.73 years old (SD = 9.52), with ages ranging from 18 years to 66 years. With regard to average monthly income (RMB, the Chinese currency, Yuan), 23.06% earned below ¥1000 (about $141), 27.33% earned between ¥1000 and ¥3000 (about $424), 11.63% earned between ¥3000 and ¥5000 (about $707), 23.45% earned between ¥5000 and ¥10,000 (about $1415), 10.47% earned between ¥10,000 and ¥20,000 (about $2029), and 4.07% earned above ¥20,000. Some 57% of the respondents were undergraduate students, and 43% were not students.
In this research, all of the measures were adapted from prior literature to ensure content validity. PEP was operationalized as the purchase/non-purchase of an eco-friendly air conditioner. The measure of PEP was adapted from Chuang et al. [50
]. Similar to the case in the study by Chuang et al. [50
], the participants read the following scenario: “Your house needs an air-conditioner, and your budget is approximately ¥3000 (about $
425). Therefore, you go to the shopping mall. An agent recommends two types of air-conditioner. There are no substantial differences between the two in terms of friction and power consumption. The only specific difference is that the type B model utilizes a fluorine-free refrigerant and is thus more eco-friendly. However, the price of the type B air-conditioner is greater than that of the type A model by ¥600 (about $
85).” After participants read the scenario, they answered the question, “If you decide to buy an air-conditioner, which one would you prefer to buy?” The response to this question was a measure of pro-environmental preference (Type A = 0; Type B = 1). As a manipulation check, participants further indicated the relative degree of difference between these two air-conditioners along the following two dimensions: (1) being more eco-friendly (‘Which air conditioner is more eco-friendly?’), and (2) being more expensive (‘Which air conditioner is more expensive?’).
The participants then completed responses to items used to measure SDNS (consisting of CNS, RNS, and ANS) and their perceived well-being. They also responded to demographic questions. SDNS was measured using the nine-item scale from La Guardia [51
]. Three items each measured each component of SDNS. Consumers’ PWB was measured using the four-item scale from Van Boven and Gilovich [29
]. A 5-point measurement scale was used, ranging from “strongly disagree – 1” to “strongly agree – 5”. We first translated the original English questionnaire items into Chinese and then we translated them back into English. Then, we made comparison between the two English versions to see if there was any mismatch, so we could make sure to be consistent with the original measures. Appendix A
contains additional information on all the items used for the measures.
6. General Discussion
The aim of this study was to test a model of the mediating role of self-determination need satisfaction (SDNS) on the relationship between consumers’ pro-environmental preference (PEP) and perceived well-being (PWB) for the very first time. Data were collected from a sample of 514 respondents on WJX. The results indicated that two needs satisfaction, competence need satisfaction (CNS) and autonomy need satisfaction (ANS), fully mediate the relationship between PEP and consumers’ PWB. However, conflictingly, relatedness need satisfaction (RNS) had no mediation effect on the relationship between PEP and consumers’ PWB because RNS did not significantly impact consumers’ PWB.
6.1. Theoretical Contributions
Our findings further the research on positive pro-environmental behavior (PEB) spillover effect in two important ways. First, our research provides plausible explanations for the inconsistent findings in the literature on PEB and PWB. Second, our research identifies a neglected and pivotal path (SDNS) from PEP to consumers’ PWB.
The results on the mediating role of two SDNS (CNS and ANS) on the relationship between PEP and consumers’ PWB verify self-determination theory (SDT) [12
], costly signaling theory [39
], and social recycling theory [36
]. The results from the testing of H2, which predicted that consumers’ CNS mediates the relationship between PEP and PWB, align with the findings of prior studies on PEB [33
], self-determination theory [40
], and well-being [25
]. Consistent with results from prior research, PEBs such as green consumption might be divided into different stages like purchasing green products, consuming conservatively, and recycling behavior. When consumers initially pay the premium for green products, their competence need will be satisfied first. Then, in the stage of consuming and recycling, consumers’ relatedness need and autonomy need might in turn be satisfied.
In the case of the testing of H3, the results do not align with the findings of prior studies on RNS and consumers’ PWB. The insignificance of the result might be attributed to the psychological disorder or self-depletion resulting from the pseudo-environmentalist’s conspicuous PEB. Although self-proclaimed environmentalists can act based on social desirability, and even fulfill relatedness need by showing their PEP, they might not in turn get an obvious sense of well-being. Since consumers are not innately motivated to engage in PEB [33
], those extrinsically motivated actions may lead to consumers’ psychological disorder or self-depletion, which in turn lead to a reduction of their perceived well-being. Nonetheless, we advance previous research further by clarifying that RNS cannot explain the relationship between PEP and consumers’ PWB [11
Non-support of H3 regarding the mediating role of RNS also defies Ryan and Deci’s SDT, and competitive altruism theory [58
]. In this case, the lack of support might be attributed to consumers who are extrinsically motivated to act eco-friendly, but may violate their innate psychological need for relatedness. Especially for the pseudo-environmentalists, there may be a discrepancy in the relationship between their green value and actual PEB. In such a situation, engaging in PEB may lead to consumers’ psychological disorder or self-depletion. As a result, they cannot in turn get any sense of well-being.
These results from the testing of H4 align with the findings of prior studies on PEB and consumers’ PWB [11
]. Making the choice to engage in certain behaviors rather than acting out of situational constraints may reveal something in particular about who consumers are, not only to others but also to themselves [59
]. PEB is linked with a more general positive self-image. Consumers will get a higher feeling of well-being when they engage in behaviors voluntarily rather than when they engage in behaviors due to situational constraints. As a case in point, real environmentalists with a more salient sense of autonomy often integrate environmental concerns into their social value orientation [2
] and might be more likely to avoid distressful cognitive dissonance [41
]. Therefore, their engaging in PEB may significantly increase their perceived well-being.
6.2. Managerial Implications
Policymakers are usually mindful of the importance of consumer well-being on society, in general, and on individuals in particular. In light of the results that show the positive effects of pro-environmental behaviors on consumer well-being, policymakers could encourage communication that focuses on highlighting the positive benefits from pro-environmental behavior. To be specific, policymakers can boost consumers’ PWB from PEP by satisfying their competence need and autonomy need rather than satisfying their relatedness need. The reason is that this study’s results indicate a chain effect of PEP on perceived well-being through consumers’ CNS and ANS, not through their RNS. In addition to developing their own marketing communication messages, they could also encourage marketing communicators to develop similar messages in marketing their brands. Policymakers could also adopt laws and strategies that facilitate and promote pro-environmental preferences and behaviors. Furthermore, prior literature has shown that consumers are more likely to engage in pro-environmental actions when they gain positive emotions (e.g., well-being) from the behaviors [61
]. Therefore, the findings of the research can not only provide policymakers with paths from PEP to consumers’ PWB, but also can maintain consumers’ PEB over time.
6.3. Limitations and Future Research Directions
Despite the contributions of this study, there are limitations, some of which can be the basis for future research. First, our research used product choice as a measure of PEP. Although previous scholars have found consumers’ PWB is more about self-image than actual behaviors [48
], we do not know whether our findings can extend to actual PEB or not. Future studies can focus on actual PEB rather than just likely product choice, though this is a close proxy. Second, our study looked at one particular product class: air conditioners, which is a high-involvement product; therefore, more effortful deliberation may go into the choice of this product than the choice for a low-involvement product. Future studies should explore purchases of low-involvement products to determine whether there are differences in pro-environmental consumer behaviors based on the level of product involvement. The study results show, nonetheless, that consumer decisions about high-involvement products can be affected by pro-environmental preferences. In addition, the model does not take into account a number of different variables that can influence pro-environmental consumer behaviors. Third, the α value of CNS is relatively low. Future research should develop new measures to improve the quality of the results. Finally, there is a scant amount of empirical studies on the underlying mechanism like the boundary conditions of PEP on consumers’ PWB. Further research on those gaps can be carried out.