While 16 cents may not seem like much, researchers see any willingness to pay more to help the ornamental plants industry and the environment as good news.
Previous research has investigated the effects of perceived long-term consequences on people's environmental behavior, including recycling or using public transportation. So UF food and resource economics assistant professor Hayk Khachatryan wanted to understand how differences in people's perceptions of long- and short-term consequences affect plant preferences and purchase decisions.
For the study, 159 people bought plants at experimental auctions at Texas A&M University, the University of Minnesota and the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario, Canada. The participants were recruited through Craigslist and community newsletters. Researchers studied differences in what's called "consideration of future consequences" ─ the extent to which consumers consider potential outcomes of their actions ─ and how that affected their willingness to pay for edible and ornamental plants. Specifically, the study focused on their preferences for plant attributes related to sustainable production methods, container types and origin of production.
Eighty-eight of the 159 participants were deemed concerned about the consequences of their purchases. The study showed they were willing to pay up to 16 cents more for plants grown using energy-saving and sustainable production methods, sold in non-conventional containers as well as plants produced locally.
Some people recycle, exercise or diet, actions that take time to see results. Paying for long-term environmental conservation is a bit like working out or jogging, Khachatryan said.
"When you exercise, you don't see the benefits right away," he said.
Similarly, the benefits of pro-environmental production practices in the ornamental plants industry may not produce immediate impacts. Thus, consumers' plant choices may depend on how much they consider future versus immediate consequences of their choices, said Khachatryan, a member of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who conducts research at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.
The price increase is relatively low, but even 16 cents can help retailers offset their costs, researchers said. Some larger retailers may go through thousands of plants in a short period, and that can add up quickly, said Ben Campbell, a University of Connecticut extension economist, and study co-author.
A garden center or retailer may have a thin margin between production cost and the sales price, Campbell said. By adding 16 cents per plant ─ the amount some say they're willing to pay for eco-friendly plants ─ the margin can increase considerably, he said. That makes garden centers and other retailers more profitable and, perhaps more sustainable. The study is published online in the current issue of the Journal of Environmental Horticulture.