Sustainability is relevant when evaluating the quality of wooden products - yet an environmental certificate is not enough to convince consumers

The perceived quality of wooden products is affected not only by their technical characteristics but also by the consumer’s characteristics, environment and expectations related to sustainable development, says Charlotta Harju in her doctoral dissertation. The study provides new information on how consumers evaluate the quality of wooden products and their sustainability aspects in the context of housing.

– From the point of view of sustainable development, wooden products have many good properties. When produced responsibly, the products are environmentally friendly, durable, and safe and enable the use of local materials. They can also have positive effects on health and well-being. So far, there is limited information on how these sustainability aspects relate to consumers’ perceptions of quality, says Charlotta Harju, who will publicly defend her thesis at the University of Vaasa on Wednesday 14 December.

The results of the dissertation show that for consumers, the most important factors in choosing wooden building and interior products are the cosiness, health effects and longevity of wooden materials. Also, environmental friendliness and origin are considered important, while certificates and product information that communicate about them are not. In the marketing of wooden products, environmental certificates alone might not be effective enough if you want to successfully communicate environmental friendliness.

Characteristics of the consumer also affect how they perceive the quality of wooden products

Harju's dissertation also provides information on how consumers' background relates to their evaluation of wooden products.

– For wood to become a more attractive housing material for consumers, we need to understand on what basis consumers with different backgrounds and lifestyles evaluate the quality of wooden products, says Harju.

For example, if the consumer has vocational upper secondary education and a connection to the forest sector, they value the technical quality of wooden products when choosing wooden products. In addition, the multifunctionality, innovativeness, and cosiness of wooden materials are important especially to forest owners, while older consumers consider the environmental friendliness of products to be particularly important.

– The results suggest that the assessment of the quality of wooden products is influenced not only by the consumer's age, gender, and education, but also by the consumer's values, experiences, and professional background.

Perceived sustainable quality provides marketing opportunities for companies

Based on the results of her dissertation, Harju proposes a new construct "perceived sustainable quality".

– Perceived sustainable quality refers to the environmental, social, and economic sustainability attributes of wooden products, which form a part of consumers’ perceived quality, says Harju.

The perceived sustainable quality of wooden building products, for example, consists of the product's safety, longevity, origin, product information and certificates, and environmental aspects related to wood.

The construct offers companies ways to develop the sustainability features of their products and to communicate them to consumers. Consumers' expectations for product sustainability are constantly increasing, and for companies, this provides opportunities to strengthen competitiveness with understandable and transparent marketing communication. The perceived sustainable quality of wooden products in the context of housing is very important to consumers, and therefore, also essential for the social acceptability of wooden products.

Harju's dissertation in the field of marketing analyses the choice of wood products within the theoretical framework of perceived quality. The theoretical contribution of the dissertation to the research of marketing and consumer behaviour is related to the conceptualisation of the connections between the product's perceived quality and sustainability attributes. In addition, the dissertation brings new information to the fields of forest sciences and sustainability science by providing a theoretical basis for evaluating the perceived quality of wooden products and by approaching product sustainability through ecological, social, and economic aspects.

The results of the empirical studies of the dissertation are based on survey data collected in 2018 with answers from 256 people aged 18–74 living in different parts of Finland.

Doctoral dissertation

Harju, Charlotta (2022) The perceived sustainable quality of wooden products in the context of housing. Acta Wasaensia 498. Doctoral Dissertation. Vaasan yliopisto / University of Vaasa.

Publication pdf

Public defence

The public examination of M.Sc. Charlotta Harju’s doctoral dissertation “The perceived sustainable quality of wooden products in the context of housing“ will be held in auditorium Kurtén at the University of Vaasa on Wednesday 14 December at noon. Participation in the event is also possible online (Zoom, password 325199). Professor Minna Autio (University of Helsinki) will act as the opponent and Professor Pirjo Laaksonen as the custos.


Further information

Charlotta Harju was born in Kauhava in 1992. She graduated from Kauhavan lukio in 2011 and obtained a Master of Science in Economics and Business Administration in 2017 from the University of Vaasa. After graduation, she has worked as a research assistant, project researcher and doctoral student at the University of Vaasa in 2017–2022 and as a researcher at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) since February 2022. She works in e.g., the Decarbon-Home project funded by the Strategic Research Council which is affiliated with the Academy of Finland.

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