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

Sep 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 two generation lens: Current state policies fail to support families with young children

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.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A room with a viewpoint: conservation messages and motivation

Aug 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 launde ...

What does signing your name mean in the marketplace?

Mar 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 engage ...

Chain hotels lead the way in going green

Oct 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.

Hospitality turns hostile with envious employees

Sep 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.

How often will you use that treadmill?

Nov 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.

Recommended for you

Scholar tracks the changing world of gay sexuality

Sep 19, 2014

With same-sex marriage now legalized in 19 states and laws making it impossible to ban homosexuals from serving in the military, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are now enjoying more freedoms and rights than ever before.

User comments : 0