The role of trust in the transition to a more sustainable future

N. Pidgeon; N.M.A. Huijts; J. Thøgersen; E. J. Hoekstra (chair); J. van Doorn. Location: A8

Symposium: The role of trust in the transition to a more sustainable future 

Organiser: E. J. Hoekstra

Many organisations aim to make their key activities more sustainable, and profile themselves as sustainable. Yet, public trust in organisations will largely determine the role that these organisations will play in a sustainable future; trust is key for public acceptability of organisations’ activities. The speakers in this symposium will address multiple dimensions of trust. The first speaker will discuss a study conducted in the UK on public views on energy system change, and particularly public trust in the (sustainable) energy system and in involved actors. The second speaker will talk about the role of trust in different parties when it comes to acceptance of hydrogen fuel stations in the Netherlands. The third speaker will discuss research done in Thailand on the effects of trust in organic food on product purchase. The fourth speaker will focus on different sustainability claims used by companies and the effects of these claims on public trust and acceptability of companies’ activities. The last speaker will talk on how people perceive corporate social responsibility (CSR) of a company and how that, in turn, affects their attitudes and loyalty towards the company, and specifically on the moderating role of company characteristics (such as brand characteristics).

Risk Perception, Trust and Energy System Change in the UK

N. Pidgeon, C. Demski, C. Butler, K. Parkhill, & A. Spence

Much of the research examining public perspectives on energy system transitions and their risks and benefits has focused on particular aspects such as nuclear energy or energy consumption, rather than the energy system as a whole. In this paper, I discuss findings from a recent major UK study of public perspectives on whole energy system change, including social, technical and economic aspects. This research involved members of the public in creating their own future energy system scenarios using a mixed-methods design. Two phases of research were conducted: 1) deliberative workshops undertaken with six groups of people (participant n total = 68) across the UK (England, Scotland and Wales); 2) a survey and interactive energy modelling tool with a representative sample (participant n total = 2,441). Through the research analysis we have been able to create a generalised picture of UK public(s) values, criteria and conditions of acceptability of energy system change. A key consideration for members of the deliberative workshops in particular was current distrust in the system and its actors to deliver fair and affordable transitions.

The role of trust in the public acceptance of hydrogen fuel stations

N. M. A. Huijts

Hydrogen fuel stations have been opposed to because of perceived risk and lack of trust (Mumford and Grey, 2010). This study focuses on the role of trust for hydrogen fuel station acceptance in the Netherlands. 1214 Dutch citizens participated in the study. Two trust measurements were taken: (1) trust in the industry supplying, placing, running, and maintaining a hydrogen fuel station and (2) trust in the municipality deciding on whether a hydrogen fuel station is allowed to be placed at a specific location. The findings show that trust in each party significantly influences the respondents’ overall evaluation of a local hydrogen fuel station. The two trust measurements, however, affect different emotions: trust in the industry correlates (negatively) with negative emotions; trust in the municipality correlates (positively) with positive emotions. Trust in industry also relatively strongly (negatively) influences the willingness to oppose to a local hydrogen fuel station by opponents, while trust in the municipality does not. Finally, the findings show that the effect of trust on overall evaluations of the technology increases with knowledge or information level. It can be concluded that trust in responsible parties plays an important role in hydrogen fuel station acceptance, among informed and uninformed people.

The Importance of Consumer Trust For The Emergence of a Market For Green Products: The Case of Organic Food

K. Nuttavuthisit & J. Thøgersen

Consumer trust is a key prerequisite for establishing a market for “credence goods”, such as “green” products, especially when they are premium priced. This article reports research on exactly how, and how much, trust influences consumer decisions to buy green products. Based on a mixed method study, it is found that lack of consumer trust is a main barrier for the development of the organic food market in Thailand. Two focus groups and ten depth interviews revealed low knowledge about and low trust in organic food, certification, control and labeling. Further, a mall-intercept survey (N=177) revealed that lack of (especially) system trust makes consumers deflate their expectations about benefits of buying organic food and it makes them less likely to act on intentions to buy organic food. Mistrust in the authenticity of food sold as organic food and in the control system has a significant negative impact on self-reported buying behavior. This research identify consumer trust as a distinct volition factor influencing the likelihood that consumers will act on “green” intentions and strongly emphasizes the needs to manage consumer trust as a prerequisite for the development of a market for “green” products, such as organic food.

Environmental profiling of organisations: effects on trust and public acceptability

E. J. Hoekstra, G. Perlaviciute, & L. Steg

Many (large) companies profile themselves as environmentally friendly. How does this affect public perception of an organisation, its activities, and in particular public trust in the organisation? Research indicates that public image of and public trust in companies may be negatively affected when organisations profile themselves as environmentally friendly, because people may believe the organisation is disguising its real profit making intentions with environmental claims, a phenomenon known as greenwashing (Terwel, Harinck, Ellemers, & Daamen, 2009; 2011). We presented participants with one of four descriptions of a company stating that the company either endorses environmental values, acts pro-environmentally, or both, and a control condition (in which environmental values or actions were not mentioned). Interestingly, we did not find evidence for the greenwashing effect. In contrast, our study shows that people perceive an organisation as having stronger pro-environmental values and as acting more pro-environmentally when either environmental values, behaviour, or both are communicated. Environmental profiling also increased perceived integrity of the company (i.e. perceived trust, openness, honesty, the extent to which the company is seen as taking into account safety of people), and resulted in higher acceptability of its activities. Possible explanations for our findings in comparison to previous research will be discussed.

The Moderating Role Brand Characteristics and Advertising Efforts on the Effect of Corporate Social Responsibility on Customer Retention

J. van Doorn, P. C. Verhoef, M. Onrust, & M. Bügel

While positive effects of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on customer attitudes and loyalty have been confirmed, the question whether and how these effects vary depending on company characteristics is understudied. Building on social identity theory, we examine how perceived CSR relates to customer attitudes and actual retention two years later, and specifically how this relationship may be contingent on company characteristics. If customer-company identification is weak or threatened because a company performs less favorable compared to a competitor, a process of motivated reasoning may be triggered where customers put more emphasis on a company’s CSR efforts to view the company in a more positive light. Results indicate that perceived CSR can indeed compensate for some deficits, in particular for the absence of a strong brand or smaller advertising budgets. Yet CSR cannot compensate for deficits that concern a company’s capability to deliver superior products and services, such as lacking innovativeness. Companies that simultaneously do good and innovate are rewarded with higher levels of customer retention.