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Social influence and consumer preference formation for pro-environmental technology: The case of a U.K. workplace electric-vehicle study

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  • Axsen, Jonn
  • Orlebar, Caroline
  • Skippon, Stephen

Abstract

We investigate the roles of social influence in the formation of consumer perceptions and preferences for pro-environmental technologies, using the example of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The context was a technology-based workplace in the U.K. with around 500 members of staff, 57 of whom took part in a BEV experience project in 2010. Several months later, we recruited a diverse sample of 21 staff to complete semi-structured interviews. Following a multi-method approach, we elicited details about their perceptions and valuation of BEVs, experiences with BEVs, and social interactions relating to BEVs. Participants reported a wide variety of perceptions of BEV attributes, including environmental benefits and functional drawbacks. The majority of participants indicated that their BEV perceptions were “highly influenced” by at least one social interaction. We use the reflexive layers of influence conceptual framework to categorize social influence according to three processes: diffusion, the sharing of BEV-related information; translation, the discussion of uncertain BEV benefits and drawbacks; and reflexivity, the relating of BEV technology to self-concept. Findings suggest that participant perceptions change in part through social negotiation of meaning, lifestyle and identity. Neglect of social influence processes will underestimate the potential for shifts in consumer preferences regarding emerging pro-environmental technologies.

Suggested Citation

  • Axsen, Jonn & Orlebar, Caroline & Skippon, Stephen, 2013. "Social influence and consumer preference formation for pro-environmental technology: The case of a U.K. workplace electric-vehicle study," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 96-107.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:95:y:2013:i:c:p:96-107
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2013.08.009
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