This research explores the ethical sensitivity of Generation Z and their subsequent assessments of the ethicality of greenwashed messaging through the TARES Test. The initial focus of this study was to examine the ethical sensitivity of Gen Z undergraduates (n=120) from a private University in Southern California using the Ethical Sensitivity Scale Questionnaire (ESSQ) (Narvaez, 2001). The following research questions were explored: (1) What is the level of ethical sensitivity that Gen Z undergraduates posses; and (2) Are there any differences in ethical sensitivity between male and female students? Descriptive statistics revealed that the level of ethical sensitivity in the sample based on the ESSQ was high, particularly when compared to other studies that employed the same methodology. Furthermore, a Mann-Whitney U Test confirmed that female students have significantly higher self-estimations of ethical sensitivity than male students, specifically in the dimensions of "caring by connecting to others" and "identifying the consequences of actions & opinions." A secondary focus of this study was to assess the ethical dimensions of green and greenwashed advertisements through the TARES Test, which is a quantitative measure that directly evaluates persuasive messages for Truthfulness, Authenticity, Respect, Equity, and Social Responsibility (Baker & Martinson, 2001). Three ad types were creating using a fictional brand in order to avoid prior user experiences that could negatively or positively influence a participant's evaluation of the ad content. The corresponding research questions for this portion of the study included: (1) To what extent will Gen Z be able to recognize ethical issues in green advertising through the use of TARES?; and (2) Are there any gender-related differences in the ethical assessments of green and greenwashed ads? The results indicated that Gen Z are not able to consistently differentiate green and greenwashed content across all the principles of the TARES. However, when principles are observed collectively, the green ad is being evaluated as having significantly higher ethical content than the greenwashed ad. Lastly, this study sought to synthesize these findings by exploring if there was any correlation between Generation Z's ethical sensitivity and their ethical evaluations of the ads through TARES. This question was subjected to Pearson's product-moment correlation, which revealed that no connection exists between ethical sensitivity and ethical assessments of advertisements through TARES. Theoretical implications and practical recommendations for future research and green advertisement design are discussed.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (MA) -- Communication; Generation Z -- Ethics; Marketing -- Moral and ethical aspects; Environmentalism

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Seaver College



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Ballard, Bert;