The effort to get people to adopt environmentally-friendly behaviors often involves giant billboards, spot TV ads, and radio PSAs.
But psychology researchers at the University of Luxembourg recently conducted an experiment at two Swiss and Austrian ski resorts that showed a small bathroom sign could encourage people to use fewer towels -- saving the hotels money and conserving waste water, detergent, and energy.
In one hotel, the sign read (in both German and English), "75 percent of guests in this hotel reuse their towels," while in the other, the sign changed the wording to “75 percent of guests in this room."
Visitors reminded of the conservation efforts of the hotel as a whole were less likely to show restraint than those told of the conservation efforts of the room's previous inhabitants.
“We found that guests cut their towel use significantly when told of the behavior of previous guests in their room,” explained lead researcher Dr. Gerhard Reese. These guests used only one towel per day, whereas the others used 1.6 towels per person per day -- a 40 percent savings.
"Humans are social beings," Dr. Reese said. “People want to be accepted into groups and so we act in ways that make us belong. Instinctively, we feel close to those who have used a hotel room before us, believing that they are similar to ourselves. Thus we are more likely to follow their behavior.”
Reese and his colleagues are hopeful that such research can shed light on new and more subtle ways to promote positive behaviors.
The study was published in the latest issue of The Journal of Social Psychology.
[University of Luxembourg]