Research Papers: Design Automation

The Impact of Sustainability on Consumer Preference Judgments of Product Attributes

[+] Author and Article Information
Kosa Goucher-Lambert

Department of Mechanical Engineering,
Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
e-mail: kgoucher@andrew.cmu.edu

Jonathan Cagan

Department of Mechanical Engineering,
Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
e-mail: cagan@cmu.edu

Contributed by the Design Automation Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received June 5, 2014; final manuscript received March 26, 2015; published online June 8, 2015. Assoc. Editor: Harrison M. Kim.

J. Mech. Des 137(8), 081401 (Aug 01, 2015) (11 pages) Paper No: MD-14-1331; doi: 10.1115/1.4030271 History: Received June 05, 2014; Revised March 26, 2015; Online June 08, 2015

Despite significant interest from consumers, sustainable products often struggle to find success in the marketplace. This failure is frequently attributed to the perception that consumers remain unwilling to sacrifice product attributes such as form, function, or price in order to adopt a product whose environmental impact is less than that of a competing product. This work aims to better understand how knowing a product's environmental impact affects preference for that product's disparate attributes. Three products of various monetary investments and numbers of relevant features were explored through a conjoint analysis experiment that uncovers consumer preference for discrete form, function, and price attributes. In this work, single use spoons, reusable water bottles, and home washing machines were used for analysis. These three products were decomposed into form, function, and price attributes that were varied in discrete levels. After a form-only ratings-based conjoint analysis study was conducted to find high, medium, and low preference form designs for each participant, two separate form–function–price discrete choice studies were conducted for each of the three products. These two discrete choice trials were identical in all aspects except in the second trial participants were provided with calculated environmental impact values for all design configurations; the presented environmental impact information was a dependent variable based on a life cycle analysis calculation using the current product configuration being shown to the participant. Further, adding this information raises the decision to one of a social or moral choice. Results show that when participants are provided with this additional piece of information, their preference for form, function, and price attributes of a product is greatly impacted. In particular, we find that for the products chosen here, the importance of functional attributes increases in the context of environmental impact metrics, while the importance of form decreases and the importance of price decreases modestly. In other words, placing the preference judgment within a social or moral choice context changes decisions about product preferences.

Copyright © 2015 by ASME
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Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 1

Product form variation with marked attributes: (top) spoon, (bottom left) water bottle, and (bottom right) washing machine

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Fig. 2

Attribute contributions to environmental impact scores

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Fig. 3

Ability of Eco-Indicator 99 to capture small design variations. Water bottle design 17 (left). Water bottle design 9 (right).

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Fig. 4

Experimental design section flow

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Fig. 5

Survey interface example from Part 1 for the spoon

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Fig. 6

Survey interface from Part 3 for the water bottle



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