Recycling’s Not Just for Women, Bro

Research shows that women are more environmentally conscious than men.

(Photo: Getty Images)

By sean eckhardt

Kids are taught that pink shirts and Barbie dolls are for girls and Hot Wheels and Legos are for boys, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that outdated stereotypes spill over into other issues — like how much we care about the Earth.

Research has shown that women tend to recycle more, litter less, and feel more general responsibility for the environment then men. Now a new study suggests that may be because both men and women consider “eco-friendly” behavior as something that’s only for girls.

The study, published in the August 2016 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, analyzes why guys think going green is for women, and suggests that men are more likely to go green if doing so is branded in a way that appeals to their masculinity.

“People have sort of been socialized to this idea that eco-friendly behavior is feminine,” Aaron Brough, a professor of marketing at Utah State University and the lead researcher on the study, told TakePart. “If you look at a lot of the green marketing, it tends to use frilly fonts and colors that are more associated with females.”

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To find out what’s keeping guys from adopting more eco-friendly behaviors, Brough and his team conducted seven separate experiments, asking 2,000 participants from both genders questions about a range of products.

The first three experiments were designed to measure how people link eco-friendly behavior and femininity. For example, when participants were asked to pair a product with a name, both men and women were more likely to associate an eco-friendly product with a female name.

The next three experiments sought to show that when people engage in “green behavior,” not only are they judged by others as more feminine but they also perceive their own actions as more feminine. The researchers, for example, showed participants an image of people carrying plastic bags in a grocery store as well as people carrying a canvas reusable bag. Across the board, people toting canvas bags were perceived as more feminine.

In the final experiment, the participants were given a series of pairs of products to choose between. One option was was eco-friendly and the other was not. Those who had received an item that seemed more feminine — such as a pink gift card decorated with flowers — were less likely to choose the eco-friendly product.

“Basically they were trying to reassert their masculinity through non-eco friendly choices,” Brough said.“If you’ve just been told that you’re very very masculine, and then you’re asked to evaluate an eco-friendly product, you may be more willing to say you like it, even if you’re a male,” Brough said.

The researchers also found that when men had some sort of affirmation of their masculinity, they were more likely to evaluate eco-friendly products positively.

“If you’ve just been told that you’re very very masculine, and then you’re asked to evaluate an eco-friendly product, you may be more willing to say you like it, even if you’re a male,” Brough said.

To that end, the researchers concluded that tweaking how green products and environmental organizations are marketed can make them more appealing to guys.

Brough and his team asked two groups of men if they would consider donating to two different eco-friendly organizations: one called Friends of the Earth, with a logo featuring a tree symbol, bright colors, and a “frilly” font, and another called Wilderness Rangers, with a logo featuring dark colors and a howling wolf. Each organization had the same mission, but men were far more likely to express willingness to donate to Wilderness Rangers, the organization with the more masculine branding.

After all, look no further than sodas — Diet Coke was rebranded as guy-friendly Coke Zero and Diet Pepsi became Pepsi MAX — to see how products associated with women have been rebranded to appeal to men.

“A lot of eco-friendly products have sort of been positioned to appeal to women,” Brough said. “A successful strategy could be repositioning that so there’s a specific targeting to a male audience.”

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