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Green Bundle to Drive Conservation Behavior

Magali Delmas is Visiting Professor at HEC’s Center for Society & Organizations (S&O). She is the Director of the UCLA Center for Corporate Environmental Performance and Professor of Management at the Andersen School of Management in California. In late September, Delmas was invited to the ChangeNow summit in Paris as part of a debate entitled “Towards impact-driven business models”. Following the panel discussion, she shared insights into her past and current research.

Magali Delmas

Magali Delmas is a prolific writer with 102 research papers and 8,460 citations. Delmas’ latest publication is the 2018 book “The Green Bundle” (Stanford University Press). This publication combines insights from sustainable business and behavioral economics. It also guides managers on how to convince consumers to go green. 

You have just arrived on a one-year sabbatical leave from UCLA. What are you looking forward to most this year?
Magali Delmas: I’ve arrived from the U.S. with a very open mind, keen to explore new ideas for my research. In a way, the timing couldn’t have been better:  I really feel France is living exciting times in terms of innovations which combine business and innovations in CSR. There’s a feeling of optimism and a vibrancy I can sense on the campus, here at Station F and in Paris in general. I also hope to find time to develop my Planet Innovation podcast which explores business solutions to our environmental problems. The first season started earlier this month and I really hope it will attract an audience going from the curious millennials to policymakers.

In some ways your arrival at HEC’s Jouy-en-Josas campus is a return to your roots...
Yes, and in more ways than one! My ties to the campus and this region do indeed go back to my childhood, since I’m originally from Bièvres where my mother still lives. As for HEC Paris, I passed my PhD here in 1996.

What was the focus of your thesis?
It was called “Strategies for technological acquisition in the hazardous waste management industry in Europe and the United States” . I exposed the new competencies which strategic assets created, how hi-tech industry was transforming and neutralizing toxic waste. It was a comparative study between Europe and North America, some of which I later published in Industrial and Corporate Change.

How would you describe your experience as a researcher and professor at UCLA?
Well, when I first arrived, it opened my eyes to the amazing facilities available to all academics there, the libraries, the budgets, etc. I also have been impressed by the cross-fertilization that is part of the students’ academic career. Even at graduate level, they have to take courses outside of their discipline and this really broadens their vision.

There have been challenges, however. My research sometimes demands I probe delicate subjects. Last year, I collaborated with the UCLA hospital on a project destined to provide information on local air quality conditions and how it affects health. This was designed to help the vulnerable populations in cities like L.A. against poor air quality. For the program, we used a mobile app called AirForU which provided information on local air pollution throughout the U.S.  Unfortunately, the UCLA hospital decided to terminate the project after a firm expressed its displeasure over the propagation, via AirForU, of publicly available data from the US EPA Toxic Release Inventory.

You published a book this year based on your research on North American consumers and their approach to green products. Could you describe it?
It’s called “The Green Bundle: Pairing the Market with the Planet” . For a few years, I’ve been looking at how information can drive conservation behavior. I argue that successful information strategies require a holistic approach that accounts for both the altruistic and egoistic motivations of consumers. In other words, we need to offer products with a whole package, or “bundle”. This not only includes environmentally friendly benefits but also offers improved performance, health benefits, savings and status. Now, I’m hoping to explore and compare the applications of the green bundle here. That includes policies in major companies where I hope to run experiments to gauge their commitment to this “green bundle”.

Doing this kind of research has been a real challenge in the U.S.  Companies are reluctant to open their doors to academics and their lawyers resist our inquiries. But, with HEC’s relationships with major firms expanding it could be different. I’ve been very impressed so far at the work done with companies by the S&O Center, and Rodolphe Durand has the knowhow and energy to open up corporate doors.

I’m delighted to be in this Center. What strikes me most in this first month here is the symbiosis between researchers, professors, students and outside contributors. The interaction creates a very interesting model and accelerates research in a way I’ve not seen in the States.

We meet at Station F for the ChangeNow Summit shortly after the debate on promoting impact-driven business models which you were part of. What was the focus of your talk here?
I basically tried to answer the question: how can we impact change? How can we transform the number of impactors from the current 10% of the population to 75%? Most of us are what I would call convenient altruists or environmentalists. We want to do the right thing but, usually, only when it’s convenient for us. When there is a trade-off between quality and the environment, environment loses. We saw this with the Nike shoe made out of brown hemp fibers, called “Air Hobbits”. This was taken off the market within a year. Or there’s the Tesla, a fantastic car which was also struggling until very recently.

This summit had an advocacy drive, so I called on the audience to focus on five factors which can nudge products away from a niche market and into the mainstream: quality, status, health, cost and emotion. This aims at changing the way we consume in a meaningful and impactful way. I then gave examples of products that use one of the elements of the bundle. For example, people buy the electric car Tesla for its performance, esthetics, acceleration rather than for its reduced environmental impact. Then there’s the eco-certified wine which experts, like Wine Spectator, score four points higher than conventional wine because of its quality. This is underlined in our 2016 study based on data from the 74,000 wines recorded by leading wine rating publications.

Magali Delmas presents her book “The Green Bundle” during an on-campus S&O event at 12pm on November 13.