Men are more likely to buy eco-friendly products and donate to environmental charities if the branding strokes their fragile masculine egos, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research. A series of seven studies from researchers at universities in the U.S. and China show that people link “greenness” to femininity, making men less likely to engage in behaviors that might support the health of the planet they too must inhabit.
Researchers found that consumers who take sustainability into account when making purchases view themselves as more feminine than those who don’t; outsiders perceive these consumers as more feminine, too. “Building on prior findings that men tend to be more concerned than women with gender identity maintenance, we argue that this green-feminine stereotype may motivate men to avoid green behaviors in order to preserve a macho image,” the authors write.
In one study at a BMW dealership in China, researchers surveyed shoppers about a well-known eco-friendly car with a name that explicitly nodded to sustainability. When they changed the car’s name to “Protection” but kept all other descriptors the same, more men expressed interest in the car. Another study found that men were more likely to donate to a charity called “Fun for Wilderness Rangers,” featuring a logo of a howling wolf, than to a charity called “Friends of Nature” branded with a green tree.
This won’t surprise anyone familiar with the concept of “Prius Repellant” and the insufferable masochists who retrofit their diesel-burning trucks to use gratuitous amounts of fuel, emitting streams of sooty exhaust out of smokestacks. This is called “rolling coal,” and it’s supposed to be some kind of macho political statement against the pussification of America. “To get a single stack on my truck—that’s my way of giving [liberals] the finger,” a smokestack seller told Slate in 2014. “You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you.”
The new findings also align with the marketing strategies of companies that make grenade-shaped bath bombs and black-label sunscreen that boasts “TRIPLE DEFENSE” against UV rays. Sandwich bread, throat lozenges, basic hygiene: These are things men associate with women, and they will not buy related products unless the packaging somehow reassures them that they can still be men after making the purchase. Advertisers have long painted certain kinds of diet sodas and smartphones as products for girly princess wimps in an effort to sell men other kinds of diet sodas and smartphones, which are meant for manly destroyer beasts. A successful sustainability campaign might have to have a tire-tread print or tactical grip to get wolf-loving—NOT TREE-LOVING—men on board.