Category Archives: Proenvironmental behavior

Feedback types, punishment behavior, and cooperation levels in a public-good experiment

First session of the first day at ESA 2007. I’m happy to say there are many interesting papers. My pick from the morning session is ‘Feedback Effects In Public Good Experiments With Punishment’ at
http://www.luiss.it/esa2007/programme/programme3.php?paper=131#

Here is the abstract:

“Decentralized punishments, that is, punishments carried out by individuals without the intervention of a central authority, is one way of fostering and promoting social norms. Decentralized punishments have been studied in the laboratory and shown to be effective in promoting cooperation. In this paper, I examine the effect of different feedback types on punishment behavior and cooperation levels in a public-good experiment. In one treatment, participants are informed only of the individual contributions of the other group members to the public good (contribution feedback). In a second treatment, instead of receiving information regarding contributions, participants are informed about the payoffs of the other people in their group (payoff feedback). In a third treatment, individuals receive information regarding both contributions and payoffs of the other group members (full feedback). Based on this feedback, individuals make their punishment decisions. I find that information about payoffs reduces significantly both the frequency with which punishments are observed, as well as the contribution levels. Consequently, cooperation increases over time under contribution feedback, it remains stable under full feedback, and breaks down under payoff feedback. I conjecture that the reason for these results is that information about individual payoffs promotes selfish behavior.”

Conservation psychology

Surfing the net I stumbled upon the Conservation psychology site. Conservation psychology uses theories and methods from psychology to find ways to encourage proenvironmental behaviors. Its area of research thus overlaps with that of environmental economics which, among other things, searches for effective and efficient policy instruments to encourage pro-environmental behaviors. The conservationpsychology site is rich, among other things, it offers a bibliography (up until 2004) of papers on conservation psychology and information about scholars in the field. One excellent scholar is John Thøgersen; a list of his publications can be found here.

Fair-trade products: buy or not buy?

Fair-trade products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, honey, sugar, bananas etc. are commonly found on the shelves of supermarkets here in Finland. For those unacquainted with fair-trade, let me explain that fair-trade products cost more than their “conventional” counterpart. This higher price or price premium is paid by the consumer in exchange of the promise by the producer to pay a higher, “fair” price to the local producers and/or to pay a higher, “fair” wage to its workers (for more see http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/ ).
Standing is the aisle of the supermarket I ponder :should I buy fair-trade tee or the “conventional” one? What impact may an increased demand of fair-trade products have? For an interesting discussion see the Tyler Cowen’s post on Marginal Revolution

Here is an extract:

To make the best possible case for fair trade, I will assume the promise of good treatment is credible. Let’s say the supermarket has some market power and would have liked to price discriminate on coffee sales. Now you can buy either normal coffee or fair trade coffee, and the richer, more conscientious people are willing to pay more for the latter. Some people can be charged lower prices, while others pay higher prices. Fair trade will likely increase coffee output, relative to a world with no fair trade. Profits will go up. But what happens to input prices? Will wages of Rwandan coffee producers rise? It depends on the alternative to market segregation. It is possible that if only a single kind of coffee can be sold, the market would opt for the more expensive coffee, involving better treatment of all workers. Even if you don’t expect this today, it might happen in a few years’ time. If McDonald’s can improve the treatment of all the chickens it buys, maybe Starbucks or some other force will force the coffee sector to clean up its act. So development optimists should be suspicious of fair trade. It could diminish long-run general progress by giving the conscientious an outlet for their charity. By splitting up the market, we are institutionalizing especially poor treatment for one class of workers. Furthermore the high profits from price discrimination imply that producers will be keen to continue such segregation rather than end it.

‘Read more

It is not easy to be green…

Today’s Guardian publishes an article on carbon offsetting by tree planting. To the environmentally aware consumer, who is considering buying a carbon offset to neutralise her carbon emissions, James Randerson, science correspondent gives the following advice: “When donating to a company offering carbon offset projects check the cash is actually needed to get the project off the ground · Check the project has the support of local people · Ensure it represents a cost effective way of reducing carbon – has a responsible company or not-for-profit organisation audited the project?” : It is not easy to be green!

Is organic food environmentally friendlier?

In a new Swedish study published in Ambio on organic farming, Andresson et al (2005) report that “we found that organic farming and organic products were not in general superior to conventional products and practices with respect to environmental impact and product quality.”

Later in the paper the result is qualified as follows:

The question is, does organic farming lead to sustainable agricultural production? This was studied in several research projects within the Food 21 program. A general answer is maybe in terms of some aspects, but not in others. Although the organic concept for animal production is less related to a systematic health and welfare approach, it seems to be more in agreement with long-term sustainability (36) than that of crop production. A high risk for N leaching related to the use of organic manures (37) and insufficient compensation for some essential nutrients (19) are two of the main obstacles to achieving sustainability in organic crop production systems. On the other hand, pesticides are not used and can therefore not pollute natural waters in such systems.

Product quality was compared for conventional and organically produced milk, pig meat, and bread. The general picture was that no significant differences were found with respect to most parameters analyzed (22, 23, 24, 38). For parameters with detectable tendencies for more favorable levels of a specific substance, sometimes in conventional products and in other cases in organically produced products, the differences were always found to be so small that any animal or human health effects are unlikely.

In an earlier Finnish study Maatalouden tuotantotavat ja ympäristö (2000) by Juha Grönroos and Pasi Voutilainen, a similar result was found with respect to rye bread. When the environmental impacts were calculated per unit produced rather than per hectare farmed, the most environmentally friendly mode of production of rye bread was not organic farming but conventional farming. On the other hand, organic milk production had a lower environmental impact than conventional milk production. (for more background information on this study from here )

These results suggest that organic food is not always environmentally friendlier nor healthier than conventionally produced food.
How then should we interpret the choices of consumers who do not purchase organic food? Given the above results, it may be problematic to say that they fail to express “pro-environmental behavior” if they favor conventional over organic food. This assumption is however done in many survey-type studies of pro-environmental behavior.

As far as food is concerned, a better indicator of consumers’ pro-environmental behavior would be his/her level of meat consumption.
In ‘Anderssons et al (2005) words

Animal production in Sweden today is, to a large extent, based on feed concentrates from tropical countries. However, this production is very much associated with severe land degradation, and the transport of these products to Sweden represents a considerable part of the environmental impact caused by the animal production (40).

It may also be concluded that a balanced diet with less meat would feed more people and decrease environmental problems like the greenhouse effect and eutrophication of waters due to nitrogen and phosphorus losses. It would also reduce the energy consumption per unit of protein in food produced and improve human health.

References

Andersson, R. , Algers B., Bergström, L., Lundström, K., Nybrant, T., & Sjödèn, P-O (2005) Food 21: A Research Program Looking for Measures and Tools to Increase Food Chain Sustainability, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment: Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 275–282.

Grönroos, J. & Seppälä, J. (2000) SY431 Maatalouden tuotantotavat ja ympäristö, Suomen ympäristö 431, luonto ja luonnonvarat, 244 s.
URN:ISBN:9521107715. Julkaisu on saatavissa vain painetussa muodossa (In Finnish)