Study examines how to best persuade consumers to help protect the planet

Jan 25, 2013 by Melinda Battenberg
Credit: Shutterstock

We've all seen those message cards in hotel rooms asking us to reuse our towels. Many of us likely wonder, do those signs actually work? It turns out that hotel-goers are more likely to hang up their towels if they voluntarily commit to it, according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research by Ayelet Gneezy, an assistant professor at the Rady School of Management, her Ph.D. student, Elizabeth Keenan, and colleagues. Their work suggests that carefully nudging people can promote eco-minded behavior.

Influencing sustainable behavior is an ongoing challenge in today's society and encouraging hotel towel reuse with placards or messages is just one example. Gneezy and colleagues chose this issue in part because towel reuse can have a significant by saving scarce water and . It is estimated that a 10 percent reduction in by the U.S. hospitality industry would cut by nearly 6 million tons per year. Through their work, the authors discovered an easy, cost-effective approach that hotels can use to increase compliance with their towel reuse requests.

In the study, hotel guests were allowed at check-in to either make a general commitment to be environmentally friendly or to make a specific commitment to be environmentally friendly by reusing towels during their stay. To reinforce the commitment, some guests who chose to commit also received a "Friend of the Earth" lapel pin. Data collected over 31 days showed guests who made a specific commitment to reuse towels and received the pin symbolizing that commitment were 25 percent more likely to reuse towels, and hung up more than 40 percent more used towels compared to guests who were not given the opportunity to commit.

This research suggests that hotels and other businesses may be more successful in persuading positive behaviors when they take simple steps to directly engage with consumers. In fact, these connections can carry over to other eco-friendly behaviors in unexpected ways. For example, in their study, Gneezy and colleagues found that guests who made a specific commitment and received a pin were also more likely to turn off the lights in their room when leaving it, demonstrating that the guests' commitment to reusing towels spilled over and increased the likelihood they would engage in other behaviors.

"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 commitment that will likely nudge their behavior in the desired direction," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Study finds Illinois is most critical hub in food distribution network

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 ...

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.

In a Stockholm hotel, mobile phones replace room keys

Nov 02, 2010

Check-in and check-out and even opening the door to your room -- a mobile phone is the only key you need at a Stockholm hotel conducting a pilot project of new mobile applications, the participating companies ...

Recommended for you

Ancient clay seals may shed light on biblical era

Dec 20, 2014

Impressions from ancient clay seals found at a small site in Israel east of Gaza are signs of government in an area thought to be entirely rural during the 10th century B.C., says Mississippi State University archaeologist ...

Digging up the 'Spanish Vikings'

Dec 19, 2014

The fearsome reputation of the Vikings has made them the subject of countless exhibitions, books and films - however, surprisingly little is known about their more southerly exploits in Spain.

User comments : 0

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.