PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Re-Use Your Towels Like Everyone Else!
This image shows a hotel sign which was placed in hotel bathrooms and designed to persuade guests to re-use their towels. The problem with this sign is that I found myself entirely un-persuaded by it. Although it clearly appeals for my help in protecting the environment I felt there was a lot more that could be done by this hotel to persuade its guests to re-use the towels. Goldstein et al. (2008) looked at the effectiveness of signs requesting hotel guests’ participation in an environmental conservation program.
The purpose of the research was to investigate whether an appeal using descriptive norms for participation in such programs was more effective than the current industry standard appeal which focused solely on environmental protection.
Goldstein et al. conducted two experiments. In experiment 1 they randomly allocated rooms either the standard appeal or a sign which conveyed the descriptive norm. The standard appeal just focused on the importance of environment protection whereas the descriptive norm sign informed the guests that the majority of other guests (‘almost 75%’) do, in fact, participate in the program at least once during their stays. The research took place over 80 days with 1,058 instances of potential towel reuse in 190 rooms. Below you can compare the messages of the signs-
Industry standard sign- “HELP SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. You can show your respect for nature and help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.”
Descriptive norm sign – “JOIN YOUR FELLOW GUESTS IN HELPING TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. Almost 75% of guests who are asked to participate in our new resource savings program do help by using their towels more than once. You can join your fellow guests in this program to help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.”
The guests also had information on what to do with the towels to indicate their choice- leaving towels on the floor (indicating a desire not to re-use) versus hanging them up. The results showed that the descriptive norm condition yielded a significantly higher towel reuse rate (44.1%) than the industry standard environmental protection condition (35.1%) (Figure 1)
Figure 1 (Adapted from Goldstein et al. (2008))
In Experiment 2 they investigated whether guests who learn the descriptive norm for their particular room are more likely to participate in the program than guests who learn the same descriptive norm for the whole hotel. This was done over a 53-day span, where data was collected on 1,595 instances of potential towel reuse at the same hotel used in Experiment 1.
One of the signs conveyed that these norms were characteristic of other hotel guests (global norm), whereas another conveyed that these norms were characteristic of other hotel guests who had stayed in the guests’ particular rooms (provincial norm). The global norm was the same sign as the descriptive norm from experiment 1. The provincial norm sign can be found below- please note where x is found, the hotel room number would be inputted.
Provincial norm- “JOIN YOUR FELLOW GUESTS IN HELPING TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. In a study conducted in Fall 2003, 75% of the guests who stayed in this room (x) participated in our new resource savings program by using their towels more than once. You can join your fellow guests in this program to help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.”
The same room identity descriptive norm condition yielded a significantly higher towel reuse rate (49.3%) than the guest identity global descriptive norm (44.0%) (Figure 2).
Figure 2 (Adapted from Goldstein et al. (2008))
Thus not only is it the case that appeals employing descriptive norms are more persuasive than a standard environmental appeal but the most effective normative appeals are those which most closely mirror the individuals’ immediate situational circumstances (e.g., “the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels”).
Therefore this research can help improve the original sign by including some mention of descriptive norms, and in particular provincial norms.
"A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels," Noah J. Goldstein, Robert B. Cialdini, Vladas Griskevicius, Journal of Consumer Research, October 2008.