May 6, 2010 – For the sake of sustainability, consumers are willing to put their
money – at least some of it – where their mouths are, according to a
Purdue University-led study.
Surveys have consistently shown
that consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable
products in the floriculture industry. The industry has been slow to
adopt items such as sustainable pots, however, because growers have
concerns about recouping the cost of investments in sustainable
practices and materials.
"The floriculture industry uses a lot
of plastic, and, in recent years, has come under pressure to become
more sustainable and use biodegradable or compostable pots," said
Roberto G. Lopez, an assistant professor of horticulture at Purdue and
co-author of the paper on the findings. "There is concern about
recouping the costs of becoming sustainable. People say they are
willing to spend 50 cents more for sustainable pots, so we wanted to
see if they actually would."
Lopez and Jennifer H. Dennis, an
associate professor of horticulture and agricultural economics at
Purdue, teamed with researchers at Michigan State University, Texas
A&M University and the University of Minnesota to see if consumers'
actual purchases would match up with what they said they would pay.
Groups of consumers were given $30 each at silent auctions. They could
walk away with the money or put in bids on flowers contained in
different types of pots.
Each auction item gave information on
the type of pot, the carbon footprint it had and the amount of recycled
materials it contained. Bids were averaged to see what people would pay
for the plants in sustainable pots.
In surveys, consumers said
they would pay 69 cents more on average for pots made from rice hulls.
At the auctions, they were willing to pay 58 cents more. For straw
pots, the consumers said they would pay 63 cents more, and at auction
they were willing to pay 37 cents more. And consumers said they'd pay
24 cents more for wheat pots, and actually paid 23 cents more at
"People's stated preferences were similar to what they
were actually willing to pay for the sustainable pots," said Bridget K.
Behe, a professor of horticulture at Michigan State University and a
paper co-author. "Overall, consumers were willing to pay a little more
for some of the alternatives."
Lopez said the difference for
straw might have been because the straw pots look and feel fragile,
while rice hull and wheat pots look more like their plastic
counterparts and feel sturdier.
Lopez said results of the study,
which were published this week in the online version of the journal
HortScience, are good news for the floriculture industry, which has
seen costs rising much faster than prices it has been able to charge.
For instance, natural gas has more than doubled in price over the last
decade, while the price of poinsettias has increased only 11 percent in
"What this says is that if a grower is going to take
the initiative to be a sustainable grower, they can increase their
prices to go to these pots, and consumers will pay more for them,"
Next, Lopez said he would study how sustainable pots hold up under greenhouse conditions.
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Federal State Marketing Improvement
Program, the Horticulture Research Institute and the American Floral
Endowment funded the research.