2 May 2013 — How many conservatives does it take to change to an energy-efficient light bulb? The answer may lie in how the bulb is marketed.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at the attitudes of American liberals and conservatives towards energy efficiency, and found that promoting products and services on the basis of environmental benefits was an anathema to conservatives.

The surprising thing is when the environmental benefits were hidden, conservatives were just as likely to choose energy-efficient products as their liberal counterparts.

Researchers conducted an experiment where participants were given a hypothetical budget and had to choose from a traditional incandescent light bulb and a compact fluorescent light bulb. Both were labelled with basic data on energy use. When the bulbs were the same price, and even when the CFL bulb was more expensive, conservatives and liberals were just as likely to choose the energy-efficient CFL bulb. However, when a “protect the environment” label was put on the CFL bulb, those identifying as conservative were less likely to choose the energy-efficient bulb.

In an Atlantic Cities piece, study author Dena Gromet said that while she didn’t expect an environmental message to sway conservatives, she was surprised it could repel them from making choices that otherwise would be made had no environmental benefit been included in the information.

The study suggested the politicisation of the climate change debate had led conservatives to actively move away from products and services that espoused environmental benefits.

“When we’re given an option where the choice is made to represent a value that we don’t identify with or that our ideological group doesn’t value this can turn the purchase into something undesirable,” said Gromet.

Read more here.