What Makes Someone Go Green?

Green living is a popular subject. The green economy is anticipated to produce new jobs and alternative energy technologies are being developed to replace fossil fuel energy sources. Ultimately, though, a green economy is supported by consumers who are willing to buy greener products and technologies. So, a fair question to ask is the following: “What makes a consumer go green?”

I ask this question myself frequently, as my website is dedicated to showing people that it is in their best interest to live greener lifestyles. There are several possible answers to the question.

For example, would the desire to do less harm to the environment be a good motivator? What about giving someone a good feeling about living a more efficient and less wasteful life?

Maybe the idea that living greener also saves money would be a strong motivational force.

Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, the answer is none of the above. Rather, the strongest motivating factor to cause someone to go green is good, old-fashioned peer pressure.

Consider the following experiment that was done recently. Two different placards were placed in hotel bathrooms to encourage guests to reuse their towels. On the first was written “Show your respect for nature.” On the second placard were the words, “Join fellow guests in helping to save the environment,” while further noting that 75% of guests participated in the towel reuse program. The guests exposed to the second placard and the fact that many other guests were reusing towels were 25% more likely to reuse their towels than guests who saw the first placard.

A follow-up study tweaked the wording on the sign a bit more, making it specific to the room. The sign said, “75% of the guests who stayed in Room 331 reused their towels.” This sign achieved an even higher compliance.

Clearly, peer pressure works, and it is more effective than simple rationality about the benefits of reusing towels.

The results of this study have implications for companies marketing green products and services to consumers. Peer pressure and creating s guilt complex, even a subtle one, may produce the best results. I found these results somewhat surprising initially, but on reflection, less so. Being singled out as not being willing to go along with most other people in protecting the environment is much more powerful than just quietly going green because you think it is the right step to take for the environment.

These results also beg the question of how best to implement such a peer pressure strategy. I am still thinking about that one.

To your greener lifestyle!

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December 2010
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