During the last decades the lodging industry has been committed to rethink their practices in order to be more environmentally friendly. Naturally, customers have also been encouraged to contribute to the effort to conserve, but the strategies employed are seldom crafted in psychological ways.
Most often than not, staying at a hotel includes an exposure to a lot of environmental messages, one of the most common being the one emboldening us to reuse our towels. However, there are yet some hotels to be persuaded into becoming members of the green team, usually lifting the comfort card. “We just want the guests to feel comfortable without saying what they should do.” Interestingly, according to research, guests that partake in towel reuse and recycling programs tend to be far more satisfied with their stays than those who have not got the opportunity to do something.
The reason why people want to go green is actually simple: We want to be good human beings. Still, the society we live in provides us with temptations and barriers to do so, why it is important to start nudging people into the right decision. Nudges are small signs in the choice environment that steers our attention to specific behavioural outcomes, and can often operate without people even being mindful of them.
As an environmental psychologist, I wanted to investigate what nudge in the hotel environment is the most effective. During the summer of 2016, I split the guests of the four-star Green Key certified hotel Arkipelag into four groups, using the most frequently used approaches in the field. Specifically, apart from the control group (1), a document was placed on the desks in the rooms with different texts.
1. Standard message on the TV screen
“Are you willing to use the towel more than once? Hang it up!”
2. Request for a commitment (signature)
“As a friend of the environment, I will reuse my towels during my stay.”
3. Appeal to social norms
“When given the opportunity, up to 80 % of our guests choose to reuse their towels each day.”
4. Combining a request with social norms appeal
The experiment was able to increase the uptake of towel reuse in all nudge conditions. As expected, asking people to sign the document was the most effective strategy, with a compliance rate of 85 % (from 76 %). This happened despite very few people signed the document, and surprisingly, the combined condition was not more persuasive than the request alone. Clearly, only by a subtle request, people were lead to believe that they were environmentally friendly people, and therefore they also increased their towel reuse.
Much is to be said about how to frame environmental messages, but one thing should be obvious by now. It is still possible to be an even greener hotel despite an environmental certificate.
Simon J.N. Holmström
MSc Environmental Psychology