Reversing the Green Backlash in Services: Credible Competitors Help Large Companies Go Green

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Purpose – The purpose of this research is to first demonstrate a “green backlash” effect whereby evaluations of a large service organization decrease after the organization announces a new green practice and second, explore how the presence of green competitors might moderate this effect. Design/methodology/approach – The approach includes one exploratory in-depth interview study and three follow-up experiments. Findings – The results indicate that consumers perceive large companies to be lacking in credibility and that when a large service organization announces the adoption of a green practice, evaluations of that firm may actually decrease, i.e. a green backlash. Additionally, it is observed that the opposite is true when consumers are aware of a credibly green competitor. In these circumstances, large players are significantly worse off if they do not also adopt green practices. Initially it was hypothesized that the large company would need to imitate the credibly green competitor. However, the results suggest that a reversal of the backlash effect can occur even if the companies are engaged in very different green activities. Research limitations/implication – The context of the experiments is limited to the food service industry. Practical implications – The practical implication for large service organizations is that in markets where there is no green competitor, they should consider not promoting their green practices. However, these organizations need to have programs in place when a credible competitor inevitably arrives. The practical implication for environmentalists is the finding that large companies can be forced to go green simply via the existence of a small credibly green competitor. Social implications – The social implications of this research is that small green service providers are an important catalyst and necessary ingredient in the transition to a more sustainable service economy. Originality/value – This article is the first to empirically demonstrate a green backlash effect and identify conditions under which this effect might be reversed.
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credibility; green marketing; greenwashing; sustainability; trust; marketing; services
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Required Publisher Statement: © Emerald. Final version published as: Chun, H. H., & Giebelhausen, M. D. (2012). Reversing the green backlash in services: Credible competitors help large companies go green. Journal of Service Management, 23(3), 400-415. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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