Pro-Environmental Behavior; Everybody’s Doing it!

Everybody doing itHave you ever noticed the placard in your hotel bathroom encouraging you to reuse your towels? Maybe turn the lights off or conserve water? I’m sure you have and like me, you wonder whether such efforts are well aligned with responsible environmentalism (instead of cost reductions) and whether they actually work. Well, it depends. The success relies on how they phrase their message. Messages, such as ‘it will help our costs’ or ‘help us save the planet’, are ultimately not as successful when compared to peer pressure. Environmental psychology research shows the more successful messages are those that communicate what other guests do. For example, 80% of our hotel guests reuse their towels at least once during their stay. This indirect peer pressure creates an ‘I don’t want to be the one who doesn’t conform to the norm’ mentality in the guest that causes them to ultimately do what the placard recommends. Somewhat tricky (and one could argue manipulative), but effective.

China ForestNew research on China further substantiates these claims. The research, which was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), connects the success of China’s conservation efforts with social norms. The study’s data stems from China’s substantial government initiative named Grain-to-Green, which pays farmers to exchange their cropland back to forest. The benefits from such a government program include increased reduced GHG emissions (carbon sink), more habitat, less erosion, and less runoff. Alan Tessier, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology stated that the “Grain-to-Green Program is one of the largest ‘payment for ecosystem services’ programs in the world.”

To perform such a program, monetary incentive is an obvious motivator, but what scientist Jianguo “Jack” Liu of Michigan State University found was that ‘a community’s social norms have substantial impacts on the sustainability of these conservation investments.” Like the example of the hotel placard, the pressure from other people (specifically your neighbors) acting responsibly and the need to be a part of the majority encourages participation in the program. Such findings will encourage governments to leverage these social norms along with economic and demographic trends when deciding how to implement conservation programs. Consequently, more environmental benefit can be attained with less monetary investment from the government.

In the end, it all makes sense. We want to be part of a community, part of something larger than ourselves. At Celsias, we have projects to join and actions that encourage a more sustainable lifestyle. While I am not the editor of Celsias, there might be a reason when you enter the homepage there are ten individuals at the bottom shown who have recently completed an action.  It lets visitors know that there are a multitude of things that can be done and that plenty of us are doing it habitually.  It ends up persuading others to do the same. Additionally, encouraging anyone to contribute articles or discussion post items only serves to build the Celsias community and our collective effort towards climate change. I would not call it peer pressure in this case, but more of a desire to be part of a community.

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  • Posted on July 14, 2009. Listed in:

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