The Sustainability Liability Effect : How Consumers May Choose the Regular Product Instead of the Sustainable One
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- Master Thesis 
This paper evaluates the potential problem of consumers believing that sustainable products with strength-related attributes are less effective compared to the competing non-sustainable products, also known as the sustainability liability effect. The concern is that the sustainability liability effect may result in consumers choosing a regular product instead of a sustainable one, which may have consequences such as lower sales of sustainable products, countering sustainable progress made within production and marketing. A study was conducted at IKEA in Bergen, which consisted of a combined field experiment and survey where the goal was to identify if the sustainability liability effect impacted the choice of household cleaning products. Two identical oven cleaners, with the only difference being that one was indicated as sustainable and the other did not have any indication (therefore categorized as the “regular” product), were placed next to each other. Participants were asked to choose one of the products to clean an oven rack with a chance to win a 150 NOK gift card based on performance. After choosing a product, participants were instructed to complete a questionnaire instead of undertaking the cleaning challenge. Upon completing the questionnaire, which included questions based on the reasoning behind the choice of product, participants received the 150 NOK gift card. 101 participants were part of the study. Although the majority chose the sustainable product (61 out of 101), evidence of the sustainability liability effect was found when testing for the perceived effectiveness of the products and the subsequent impact on product choice. In other words, the average participant perceived the regular (versus sustainable) product to be more effective, and participants who perceived the regular (versus sustainable) product to be more effective had a higher likelihood of choosing the regular (versus sustainable) product. Evidence of the sustainability liability effect impacting product choice should have implications for various stakeholders including sustainable producers and marketers. Suggestions include increased investment in R&D to investigate and implement behavioral interventions that could counter the sustainability liability effect such as product placement in stores. Future research on sustainability liability effect should investigate aspects such as a store setting, rural and urban areas, online shopping, and post-COVID-19.