Solar panels and hybrid vehicles – particularly the Toyota Prius – are fast becoming the ultimate status symbols for a new breed of consumers, according to a new study.
“Conspicuous Conservation: The Prius Effect and WTP for Environmental Bon Fides” cites a growing trend among certain consumers to buy environmental products that are easily recognizable, sometimes at the expense of other environmental products, such as home insulation, energy-efficient heating and window sealing. The study, done by two economists, says that the Totoya Prius has enjoyed a disproportional amount of success in the hybrid car market place because it is more easily recognizable than competing hybrids.
“The Prius, therefore, historically provided the most powerful signal of the owner’s affinity for the environment of any vehicle in the U.S.,” the study says.
The study also argues that roof-based solar panels are more popular than other environmental products because neighbors can easily recognize them and associate them with the environmental movement.
The authors of the study refer to this affinity as “conspicuous conservation” and compare it to the conspicuous consumption habits of an earlier generation of Americans.
The study suggests that government provide more incentives for the purchase of other environmental products. “Economists have begun to question whether homeowners over-invest in residential solar power because of its conspicuousness and under-invest in home insulation improvements, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and window sealing because of the relative inconspicuousness of these investments,” the study concludes. “Policy, then, should endeavor to align private incentives with behaviors that are in the public interest.”