Conservatives Shy Away from Light Bulbs With Eco-Friendly Labels
Credit: Unlit light bulb image via Shutterstock

Conservatives may be less likely to buy energy efficient light bulbs if they're packaged as environmentally friendly, new research suggests.

In one study, participants were given $2 to spend on a light bulb with a choice between a 50-cent incandescent bulb and a $1.50 compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb. They were told the CFL bulb would last 9,000 more hours and reduce energy costs by 75 percent compared with the old-fashioned bulb.

Both liberal and conservative participants were more likely to choose the CFL bulb, the researchers found. But if the CFL bulb was marked with a sticker that said "Protect The Environment," those who identified as politically moderate or conservative shied away.

"A popular strategy for marketing energy efficiency is to focus on its environmental benefits," study researcher Dena Gromet of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School said in a statement. "But not everyone values protecting the environment. We were interested in whether promoting the environment could in fact deter some individuals from purchasing energy efficient options that they would have otherwise selected."

Environmental causes have become quite polarizing along political lines, and those with conservative views tend to be more skeptical about the human causes behind climate change. Energy efficient light bulbs became a point of controversy a few years ago when Republican members of Congress like Michele Bachmann and Rand Paul wanted to overturn legislation that encouraged American manufacturers to phase out the old incandescent bulbs in favor of CFLs.

Nonetheless, the new research found that most people would rather take advantage of a good deal than distance themselves from a politically polarizing issue. When both incandescent and CFL bulbs were priced at 50 cents, nearly every participant bought the CFL bulb regardless of the sticker, the researchers said.

The research suggests that messaging may greatly impact how people invest in energy efficient products. Another survey by Gromet and colleagues found that conservatives placed less value on reducing carbon emissions in the context of energy efficient investments, while energy independence and energy cost-cutting had more widespread appeal.

The findings were detailed this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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