Recently, owing to the increase in particulates matters, frequently recurring instances of abnormal weather, and recycling issues, consumers have acquired an increasing awareness of environmental problems and interest in addressing them. In the past, consumers focused mainly on eco-friendly activities, such as recycling to solve environmental problems, but were relatively indifferent to the production and consumption of products that pollute the environment. However, nowadays, they have begun to oppose the production of products that pollute the environment and actively highlight the government’s passive attitude toward saving the environment. They practice environmentally friendly behaviors and prefer the consumption of eco-friendly products [1
Consequently, many studies have investigated the factors that impact consumer behavior to purchase eco-friendly products—mainly, consumers’ environmental values, attitude, knowledge, product prices, and awareness [2
]. Roberts [6
] argues that environmental awareness is important to bridge the gap between environmental issues and sustainable behavior, and according to Joshi and Rahman [7
], consumers’ high interest in environmental and social issues induces eco-friendly purchasing behavior, and is considered the main motivation. Consumers who are interested in environmental and ethical issues said that they prefer to purchase eco-friendly products [8
]. However, research on the relationship between consumers’ environmental consciousness and eco-friendly product purchase behavior is scarce. Existing studies on environmental consciousness focus on eco-friendly behavior, but direct product purchase by consumers has not been explored.
In general, most of the consumers who are sensitive to environmental degradation support eco-friendly products; however, their support does not translate into actual action [9
]. According to the 2020 Korea Procter & Gamble (P&G) survey of 4000 Korean consumers on purchasing eco-friendly products, 82.2% of all respondents reported that they were willing to purchase eco-friendly products; however, only 25.5% of the respondents actually purchased eco-friendly products [10
]. The results suggest that willingness itself is unlikely to lead to the actual purchase of eco-friendly products. Moreover, the results show that, despite having environmentally friendly intentions, consumers are skeptical about purchasing eco-friendly products. In other words, people who are concerned about the environment do not necessarily buy and consume eco-friendly products. However, previous studies have measured the behavioral dimension related to purchasing eco-friendly products as purchase intention [11
]. In fact, studies in consumer behaviors have usually viewed the intention as the same or at least highly correlated with the actual behavior [13
]. The area of purchase intention and buying behavior gaps in consumers purchasing environmentally sustainable products has been extensively studied in the past literature [1
]. However, there still exists a gap between the intention and the actual behavior.
In order to solve this problem, it is necessary to narrow the gap between green consumption intentions and actual behavior. It has also been proposed that more research on the discrepancy between purchase intention and purchase behavior should be performed [17
]. However, there is a paucity of the literature examining the moderating effects of the gap between purchase intention and purchase behavior on green product consumption. Kaur and Bhardwaj evaluated the moderating influence of a proxy measure of actual control on the purchase intention–action gap and showed that it positively moderated the relationship between purchase intention and purchase behavior [16
]. Joshi and Rahman [7
] reviewed studies with regard to situational factors as barriers between consumers’ purchase intention and purchase behavior, and emphasized that future research on situational factors should continue. Grimmer et al. [18
] revealed that the mediating effect of purchase intention and the moderating effect of situational factors appeared in the relationship between the purchase intention and purchase behavior of ethical products, and suggested that more research be conducted on the relationship between purchase intention and purchase behavior.
Therefore, this study aims to examine the effect of each of these dimensions on eco-friendly product purchase behavior by dividing environmental consciousness into environmental knowledge, environmental interest, and consumer effectiveness perception. Moreover, we also investigate whether the situational context factors control the relationship between the purchase intention and purchase behavior of eco-friendly products. Through this study, the validity of the arguments made by existing studies can be confirmed, and practical implications related to eco-friendly products can be gained.
In Section 2
, we introduce our perspective and hypotheses. Next, we describe the research methodology. Then, we specify structural model and report empirical results. The last section discusses this study’s implications and limitations and then provides suggestions for future research.
For the hypothetic SEM model, we used SPSS 22.0 and AMOS 22.0 to test whether the empirical data conformed to the proposed model. The model included twenty-two items describing seven latent constructs. We examined the model fit of our research, as shown in Table 4
. The common criteria in the SEM were suggested by Hair et al. [61
]. All fit indices of this study are acceptable.
shows the results of hypothesis verification on the relationship between the level of environmental consciousness and the purchase intention of eco-friendly products. H1 to H3 predicted that environmental consciousness would affect one’s purchase intention of an eco product. The results showed that environmental knowledge significantly influenced purchase intention (β = 0.42, p
< 0.001), and perceived consumer effectiveness also significantly affected purchase intention (β = 0.28, p
< 0.01), but environmental concern did not significantly affect purchase intention (β = 0.18, n.s). This finding supports H2 and H3. H4 posited that one’s purchase intention of an eco product affects purchase behavior. The results show that purchase behavior toward eco products was significantly influenced by purchase intention (β = 0.91, p
< 0.001), indicating the support of H4. We further analyzed the effect size. Effect size indicates whether a structure has a real impact on other structures. The generally recommended values are 0.02, 0.15, and 0.35, respectively [62
]. The effect size of the relationship between environmental knowledge and purchase intention was 0.044, and between perceived consumer effectiveness and purchase intention was 0.067.
and Table 7
show the results of hypothesis verification on the moderating effects of situational factors in the relationship between purchase intention of eco-friendly products and the actual purchase behavior of eco-friendly products. To verify the moderating effect of situational factors, an analysis of the difference between the two groups using a structural equation model was conducted. Upon examining the difference in the kai square between groups in order to investigate the moderating effect of label trust, H5 was △x2
= 6.59, which indicates that the statistically marked difference at the significance level of 0.05 and the high ELC are notably higher than the low ELC. This result shows that eco label credibility has a positive moderating effect on the relationship between the purchase intention and the behavior toward eco products. Hypothesis 5 is therefore supported. That is, the higher the eco label credibility, the higher the influence of purchase intention on the behavior toward eco products. Upon examining the difference in kai square between groups to investigate the moderating effect of ease of purchase, H6 was Δx2
= 6.89, indicating a statistically significant difference at the significance level of 0.05. This also means that ease of purchase has a positive moderating effect on the relationship between purchase intention and behavior toward eco products. Hypothesis 6 is thus supported. In other words, the higher the ease of purchase, the stronger the effect of purchase intention on behavior.
This study indicated that existing studies on eco-friendly products had limitations in predicting purchase behavior by measuring only purchase intention, and sought to examine the relationship between purchase intention and purchase behavior by expanding on actual purchase behavior. It was intended to examine the moderating effect depending on situational factors, believing that there would either be a barrier or promotion of situational factors for the phenomenon whereby eco-friendly products are not actually purchased despite real purchase intentions. Additionally, owing to the recent increase in environmental problems, consumers’ environmental consciousness will impact the purchase of eco-friendly products, and the study attempted to examine the relationship between environmental consciousness and eco-friendly product purchase.
The analysis results find that environmental knowledge and perceived consumer effectiveness factors act as independent antecedents of the purchase intention of eco product. Although some researchers have investigated the factors affecting the antecedents of purchase intentions for green products via the mediating role of attitude [13,63,64], this study found that two factors act as the antecedents of eco-friendly purchase intention, which are directly based on an intention–behavior model of eco-consumer behavior
. Among environmental consciousness factors, environmental knowledge has a stronger effect on the purchase intention of eco products than PCE. This finding implies that consumers who are interested in eco-friendly products and are more knowledgeable on the matter are more likely to act eco-friendly. Moreover, the more knowledge of environmental problems and issues, the more consumers intend to purchase eco-friendly products. This study also confirmed that PCE is an important predictor of ecologically conscious consumer behavior. Furthermore, eco-friendly consumers are more internally controlled by a belief in the self which contributes to a more action-oriented attitude, rather than a collective effectiveness imposed by society and the government . Therefore, consumers with high PCE have been shown to believe that they could possibly handle ecological issues by themselves with their own efforts
. The results also show that the purchase intention of an eco product is positively associated with the purchase behavior toward an eco product. In addition, this study indicates that ease of purchase and eco label credibility moderates the effect of purchase intention on purchase behavior. This result means that consumers who can easily find and purchase eco-friendly products around them are relatively more likely to buy eco products. Furthermore, these results also provide contributions to previous studies on the gap between intention and behavior in green consumerism. Previous studies related to green consumption have used the role of cognitive view to explain the gap between intention and behavior [16,35,43]. Under this view, studies usually consider the intention as highly correlated with behavior. However, our study focuses on the situational context to examine the moderators that help close the gap between intention and behavior in green consumption. Therefore, the findings of our study have shown that there always exists at least a gap between the intention and the behavior in eco-friendly consumption.
In addition, this finding also supports previous studies [18
] which conclude that the more favorable situation increases the translation of intentions to behavior. Another finding of this result means that a higher eco label credibility strengthens consumers’ behavior toward eco products.
5.1. Theoretical Implications
The following theoretical implications are presented based on the results of this study. First, from an environmental perspective, the variables affecting the purchase intention of eco-friendly products were considered as consumers’ environmental consciousness divided into environmental interest, environmental knowledge, and consumer effectiveness perception. The effect on the relationship of eco-friendly product purchase intentions was confirmed. The dimensions of environmental consciousness, environmental knowledge, and consumer effectiveness perception were identified as variables affecting the purchase intention of eco-friendly food—this differs from the research results of Maichum et al. [47
] in that it does not directly affect the purchase intention of eco-friendly products. However, consistent with Frick et al. [27
], environmental knowledge and the perception of effectiveness directly affect behavioral intentions. This study identified that environmental interest did not affect the purchase intention of eco-friendly food. These results show that environmental interest cannot be considered a factor that directly affects the purchase intention of eco-friendly food, and other factors are required as parameters. Newton et al. [4
] stated that more information was required to support purchase decisions before converting to purchase intention of eco-friendly products. Therefore, it would be more meaningful to examine an interest in health as a parameter in the relationship between an interest in the environment and the intention to purchase eco-friendly products.
Second, it was judged as insufficient to predict purchase behavior by measuring only consumers’ purchase intention, owing to the characteristics of eco-friendly food, and the purchase behavior of eco-friendly products was examined as a result variable. Previous studies suggested that in ethical or eco-friendly products, purchase intention did not predict purchase behavior, and purchase intention and purchase behavior were inconsistent. Therefore, it was insufficient to regard purchase intention as a predictor of purchase behavior. Accordingly, in this study, the purchase behavior of eco-friendly products was measured, and it was confirmed that the purchase intention of eco-friendly products was a variable affecting the purchase behavior of eco-friendly products.
Third, owing to the nature of eco-friendly products, there is an intention to purchase products; however, actual purchases have not increased. This phenomenon can be explained as there being another factor impacting the relationship between intention and behavior in purchasing eco-friendly products. However, in previous studies, only theoretical concepts were presented on barriers and catalyst factors for the discrepancy between the intention and behavior of purchasing eco-friendly products. This study presented situational factors to examine the relationship between eco-friendly product purchase intention and eco-friendly product purchase behavior and examined the moderating effects of the suggested situational factors.
5.2. Practical Implications
The results of this study provide eco product company managers with insight into how to improve consumers’ purchase behaviors. The predominant implication is that environmental knowledge and consumer effectiveness perception affect the purchase intention of eco-friendly products and lead to eco-friendly product purchase behavior. The findings of this result recommend increasing consumers’ knowledge of eco product performance which can help to accomplish personal goals of environmental impact. This social and educational green consumption strategy would help to not only increase eco-friendly consumption behaviors, but also turn consumer intention into actual green behaviors. Under this strategy, consumers need to be aware of their personal impacts via consuming eco products. Therefore, companies should focus not only on promoting products, but also on delivering knowledge about the environment so that consumers can augment their environmental knowledge. It can also be predicted that the sales of eco-friendly products will increase in the future as information on how consumer behavior will affect the environment is steadily shared with the public. Additionally, Korean consumers are still more interested in their own health than in the ecological environment when deciding on the purchase of eco-friendly products. Therefore, when advertising eco-friendly products, it will be more effective to emphasize both an interest in the environment and health for the consumers themselves, as well as their families. In the future, it is expected that a promotion concept for consumption promotion linking health and environmental protection will be required.
Another implication of our finding is related to the situational context. It is necessary to focus on the credibility of the eco label and the ease of purchase to facilitate sales of eco-friendly products. However, it would appear that the mere presence of eco labels does not necessarily drive product credibility. The brand managers of green products should also consider which eco label to use, as there are many in the marketplace. As eco labels interact with brand or product evaluation, selecting the right eco label is even more important for brand managers.
Additionally, eco-friendly food companies should make it easier for consumers to purchase products. Affordability can impact the purchase of eco-friendly foods, such as organic foods, and this is not under the consumer’s control. Supply chains determine the availability of eco-friendly food to consumers. According to a 2017 survey by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, most consumers (59.3%) have difficulty buying eco-friendly foods at large discount stores, SSM (corporate supermarkets), and local supermarkets, except for specialty stores. Most consumers buy eco-friendly foods at large discount stores, but there are occasions when they do not have eco-friendly foods in stock, and products that they usually buy are often sold out. Therefore, eco-friendly food management in large marts should be thoroughly managed through smooth communication between eco-friendly food producers and sellers so that various items can be supplied steadily, and finally, inventory management should be improved. It is also necessary to introduce measures to facilitate the purchase of these eco-friendly products.
6. Limitations and Future Studies
Although this study reveals several theoretical and practical implications, it has some limitations. This study examined a sample of a relatively high percentage of environmentally aware consumers. Future research could include the differences between green and non-green consumer responses.
Consumers’ income and cultural backgrounds might influence their decision making process. However, the present study was based on a sample in only one developed country. Therefore, it should be replicated in other countries to understand how different consumers associate their perceptions and outcomes. Moreover, intention and behavior are measured at the same point in time throughout the same sample. Future research may apply the survey at different moments of time so as to better determine the intention–behavior gap. As such, various characteristics of the sample and cross-sectional research will contribute to the generalization of the research result.
This study attempted to present new influencing variables based on the planned behavioral theory of Fishbein and Ajzen, but it could not examine the variables that affect the existing purchase intention. It would be more meaningful to examine various subjective norms, perceived control, and attitude variables proposed by Fishbein and Ajzen.
Another possible future extension of this work could be to investigate whether the results from this study can be applied to various eco label types including color, size, and sponsor.
Similarly to previous researches [66
], this study has the possibility of a social desire ability bias by using a Likert scale. Some respondents normally lie in the questionnaire due to biasness, hence leading to wrong conclusions. Bias between self-reported behavior and real behavior might be overcome in future research via an experimental study comparing real behaviors with previous intentions.
As an approach to resolve the discrepancy between purchase intention and purchase behavior toward eco-friendly products, this study focused on situational factors that can control the effect of purchase intention on behavior. In future studies, it will be necessary to examine the moderating effects of demographic, socioeconomic, and socio-psychological variables.