People are more likely to help save the environment when they are told about others' participation in conservation efforts than when they are educated about the environmental benefits, say researchers.
Experts from the University of Chicago and Arizona State University came to this conclusion after examining participation rates in a towel re-use program designed to reduce unnecessary laundering at a major hotel chain.
"These experiments are aimed at better understanding the factors that motivate consumers to engage in actions for the benefit of the environment. This important topic, along with pro-social behavior in general, is a severely understudied area of consumer research," say the authors.
For their study, the researchers created a series of different towel re-use cards, and placed them in the hotel's bathrooms.
Some cards read "Help Save the Environment", while other "Join Your Fellow Guests in Helping to Save the Environment". Both provided information on how resources are preserved when guests re-use towels.
Room attendants recorded towel reuse rates.
The researchers said that cards that focused on the level of participation of other guests, which essentially conveyed that it is normal to participate, increased the percentage of participation from 35.1 per cent to 44.1 per cent.
In another study, the researchers were able to boost towel re-use even further by placing a sign in the room that said 75 per cent of guests in that specific room re-used their towels.
"The results of our studies have clear implications for marketers, managers, and policymakers. It is worth noting that the normative messages, which were messages that we have never seen utilized by hotel chains, fared significantly better at spurring participation in the hotel's environmental conservation program than did the type of message most commonly utilized by hotel chains-messages that focus on the importance of environmental protection," write the authors.
The study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.