Want to Be More Eco-Friendly? Announce it to the World

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Researchers looked at a consumer's willingness to "go green" by giving them the opportunity to feel good about their actions.

The key to getting consumers to think green is as much about being ego-friendly as it is eco-friendly.

A recent study published in Journal of Consumer Research shows that, if you want consumers to change their environmentally damaging behavior, you have to give them a polite nudge in the right direction, not an authoritative command. Consumers are also more likely to practice environmentally savvy behavior if they’re allowed to announce their commitment publicly.

“Commitment promotes consistent changes in behavior, especially if consumers 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 the study’s authors in the report.

The team of researchers took to a California hotel for their experiment. You’ve probably seen the signs during a hotel stay of your own – something along the lines of “Hang your towel to reuse and save water, leave on the floor for fresh linens.”

Researchers switched it up by having front desk agents ask guests to commit to reusing their towels in person. They were also offered a next-level symbol of commitment – a lapel pin that said “Friend of the Earth.” Guests who were asked in person to reuse their towels hung more towels than those who were not. They were also more likely to turn off the lights in their room once it was time to leave.

“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 report says.

Related: New Survey: ‘Green Guilt’ is Up

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