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Manliness And Green Living


Is recycling manly? What about bringing your own bag to the grocery store, buying a hybrid car? Research suggests that many men don't make ecofriendly decisions because it doesn't seem, well, tough enough. At least this is what marketing professor Aaron Brough found. He's recapped his research for Scientific American. And he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

AARON BROUGH: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So hit the highlights for us. What did your research show?

BROUGH: Yeah. So the main takeaway from this study is that there's a widespread stereotype that people hold, both men and women, that ecofriendly behaviors are feminine. And because of that, men are sometimes reluctant to go green because they want to maintain their gender identity. And what we've found is that this reluctance that men have to go green can be overcome by either affirming their masculinity or rebranding ecofriendly products is more masculine.

WERTHEIMER: Well, do you have any idea why that gender gap is there, why environmentally conscious decisions are associated with femaleness or femininity?

BROUGH: Yeah. It's a good question. So there's a lot of prior research that we looked at that definitely documents that there is this gender gap in environmentalism. Women litter less than men. They recycle more. They leave a smaller carbon footprint. It could be the case that people have just observed women being more ecofriendly. It could be, you know, a lot of marketing around green products is targeted at women. But what we really looked at is how this stereotype affects the behavior of consumers.

WERTHEIMER: Some of your research was also involved in trying to change the anti-environmental behavior by changing the design of products so that, somehow, they would feel - I don't know - brawny or tough or something.

BROUGH: Yeah. And so we did a study where we recruited just men. And we threatened their masculinity. So we showed them a gift card. Half of the men just saw a standard gift card. And then half of the men saw a gift card that had been designed to look feminine, where it was pink, and it had flowers and kind of a frilly design. And what we found is that the men who had been shown the pink gift card were much more likely to choose products that were non-green. So this was a way of reasserting their masculinity when it had been threatened by making those non-environmentally friendly choices.

And so then in a subsequent study - and this gets back to your original question - we wanted to see, can we do anything to offset this? And so we did a number of things. In one study, we took a nonprofit organization that had kind of a traditional logo. It was called Friends of Nature. And then we rebranded it to use more masculine colors. We called it Wilderness Rangers. And men's likelihood of donating to that charity went up significantly.

WERTHEIMER: Well, it seems to me that one possibility might be that women are just better people.

BROUGH: (Laughter) It could be.

WERTHEIMER: Aaron Brough is a professor of marketing at Utah State University. He spoke with us from Logan, Utah. Thank you very much.

BROUGH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "FANSHAWE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.