Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 158, Issue 3, pp 659–677 | Cite as

Ethical Products = Less Strong: How Explicit and Implicit Reliance on the Lay Theory Affects Consumption Behaviors

  • Robert MaiEmail author
  • Stefan Hoffmann
  • Wassili Lasarov
  • Arne Buhs
Original Paper


Many consumers implicitly associate sustainability with lower product strength. This so-called ethical = less strong intuition (ELSI) poses a major threat for the success of sustainable products. This article explores this pervasive lay theory and examines whether it is a key barrier for sustainable consumption patterns. Even more importantly, little is known about the underlying mechanisms that might operate differently at the implicit and explicit levels of the consumer’s decision-making. To fill this gap, three studies examine how the implicit judgments that consumers activate automatically shape their consumption behaviors, in concert with their more controlled explicit beliefs about sustainable products. The Main Study investigates the ELSI’s imprint on actual shopping patterns and disentangles the implicit and explicit mechanisms of the lay theory. This paper also asks how this negative influence can be attenuated by examining whether the consumer’s interest in sustainable consumption reduces reliance on the ELSI. Two follow-up studies confirm the robustness from different methodological and practical perspectives. Implications for companies and policy makers are derived.


Ethical products Consumption decision-making Sustainability Implicit Association Test Shopping patterns Intuition Consumption data Field experiment 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Mai
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stefan Hoffmann
    • 2
  • Wassili Lasarov
    • 2
  • Arne Buhs
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of MarketingGrenoble Ecole de ManagementGrenobleFrance
  2. 2.Department of MarketingKiel UniversityKielGermany

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