Buying green's dark side: It makes consumers more likely to lie, cheat, steal


Green is good, or so we're told. We get approving looks at the checkout stand when our paper towels are recyclable, our disposable forks are compostable and our dishwashing detergent is 100 percent natural. But here's a dirty little secret: people who seem more virtuous because they buy green may, on the contrary, be more likely to lie, cheat and steal, according to a recent study. Canadian researchers say undergraduates who went on simulated shopping trips to green stores were were far more apt to cheat in other activities than those who shopped at conventional retailers.

"People in the experiment felt they had earned some moral credential that will shield them from doing something immoral," says researcher Nina Mazar, who collaborated with Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto's Joseph Rotman School of Management. These findings build on a growing body of evidence that show morality is fungible and easily affected by circumstances. Dubbed the "licensing effect," psychologists theorize that people keep a running karmic tally in their subconscious of good and bad actions. This tally strongly impacts decision making and how likely people are to do the right or the wrong thing in any given situation.

Originally published