Want to encourage eco-friendly behavior? Give consumers a nudge (Don't tell them what to do)

September 11, 2012

Consumers are more likely to change their behavior if they voluntarily commit to changing rather than being told what to do, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. So carefully nudge them along if you're trying to encourage more eco-friendly behavior.

"Commitment promotes consistent changes in behavior, especially if pledge specific steps to promote the desired behavior. Consumers who publicly express a commitment to the environment will reinforce their commitment and increase sustainable behavior," write authors Katie Baca-Motes, Amber Brown (both Disney Research), Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth A. Keenan (both University of California, San Diego), and Leif D. Nelson (University of California, Berkeley).

Influencing sustainable behavior is an ongoing challenge in today's world. Hotels often ask consumers to "do their part" for the environment by reusing towels, but this approach has limited success. Appeals to adhere to (i.e., informing guests that the majority of guests in a hotel reuse their towels) have been shown to be more effective, yet leave an estimated 50% of hotel patrons unresponsive.

The authors studied consumers staying at a California hotel. At check-in, guests were asked to either make a general commitment to be environmentally friendly or to make a specific commitment to reuse towels during their stay. Notably, the commitment was entirely symbolic—once guests checked in, they were able to exist in and behave as they wished. To reinforce the commitment, some guests who chose to commit further received a "Friend of the Earth" lapel pin.

Asking guests to make a specific commitment to hang towels made them more likely to hang their towels. However, when they made a specific commitment to practice sustainable behavior and received a pin to symbolize that commitment, their subsequent behavior was significantly more eco-friendly. They were more likely to reuse towels as well as turn off the lights when they left their rooms.

"Rather than telling consumers what they should be doing, companies, nonprofits, or government agencies wishing to influence behavior change should consider an alternative option—one that creates an appealing opportunity for consumers to start with a small step—a non-binding that will likely nudge their behavior in the desired direction," the authors conclude.

Explore further: A room with a viewpoint: conservation messages and motivation

More information: Katie Baca-Motes, Amber Brown, Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth A. Keenan, and Leif D. Nelson. "Commitment and Behavior Change: Evidence From the Field." Journal of Consumer Research: February 2013.

Related Stories

A room with a viewpoint: conservation messages and motivation

August 22, 2008

People are more likely to reuse hotel towels if they know other guests are doing it too. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examined participation rates in a towel re-use program designed to reduce unnecessary ...

How often will you use that treadmill?

November 17, 2008

Why not buy that treadmill? You'll be exercising every day, right? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examines why our expectations of our behavior so often don't match reality.

Hospitality turns hostile with envious employees

September 28, 2010

Guest relationships can become collateral damage when hotel employees envy the relationships co-workers have with their bosses, according to an international team of researchers.

What does signing your name mean in the marketplace?

March 17, 2011

Signing your name on the dotted line heightens your sense of self and leads to purchase behavior that affirms your self-identity, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. But signing can reduce engagement ...

Chain hotels lead the way in going green

October 25, 2011

Chain hotels are doing a better job of going green than their independent competitors, according to a new analysis by Washington State University researchers.

Recommended for you

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.