“Monkey see, Monkey do” more

What makes people make one degree changes? How do we nudge people toward those greener choices? The answer, it seems, is ‘peer pressure.’ According to a number of recent studies, when we see others around us making ‘green tweaks,’ we are more likely to make them ourselves. Call it the environmental version of ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ but, as Stephanie Simon explains in a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, “our behavior often boils down to that old mantra: Monkey see, monkey do.”  One study, involving those placards in hotel bathrooms that encourage guests to reuse towels, tested two different messages. In the first card, guests were urged to “Help Save The Environment” and “show your respect for nature” by reusing the towels. The second placard informed guests that 75% of guests participated in the towel-reuse program. Guests who saw the second placard were 25% more likely to reuse towels.

When the message in the second placard was even more specific- “nearly 75% of guests who stayed here in Room 331 reused their towels”- guests were even more likely to comply.

After Washington D.C. added a five-cent tax on every disposable bag handed out in retail outlets, the number of bags handed out dropped significantly. But more than the tax, the fact that customers now have to specifically request the bag- in front of their fellow customers- may explain the drop in numbers. As one D.C. councilman explained to Simon,”it’s more important to get in their heads than in their pocketbooks.”

Another study involved public-service messages hung on the doorknobs of a neighborhood in San Marcos, Calif. Like the hotel placards, a variety of messages were tested. Each version asked residents to use fans instead of air conditioning, but different reasons were given, including potential financial savings (“you could save $54/month on your utility bill”), emissions savings (“you could prevent the release of 262 pounds of CO2 per month”) and, finally, social pressure. That group was told that 77% of their neighbors already used fans in place of air conditioning. The group exposed to ‘peer pressure’ reduced its energy consumption by 10%, compared to 3% for the other groups.

Part of the challenge in making one degree changes is knowing how to do it. Another challenge is the costs associated with choosing the greener option. But, it’s clear, as advocates of a greener life, we can do better in demonstrating that these choices are being made and in big numbers. As one expert explained to Simon, “we can move people to environmentally friendly behavior by simply telling them what those around them are doing.”

[Source: WSJ]

  • Tags: Conversation on Conservation, Facts & Figures, Simple Change, Waste
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