Nudge Guests, Reduce Expenses and Save the Environment
By Michael Barbera CEO, Barbera Solutions | October 2016
Most hotels have a sign in each bathroom that ask the guest to be environmentally friendly by reusing their towels. When a guest re-uses their towels, the hotel saves money on laundry expenses, which includes a reduced use of water. However, many hotels find these signs to be ineffective. The cards cost a fee to print, and they use employee resources for placement in the rooms, but hoteliers find little to no return on investment for these paper signs.
During the past 30-years, researchers have studied human behavior and social norms. Because, well, people don't make rational decisions. We tend to attribute our behavior to more noble motives, or to practical concerns about capital. But at its core, our actions often relate to that old mantra: Monkey see, monkey do. The field of behavioral economics was born after several brave researchers broke the rules to identify how individuals make irrational decisions. If psychology and microeconomics had offspring, behavioral economics would be the result. Moreover, Daniel Kahneman, the only psychologist to be awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, once stated, "you feed them [people] the same data twice, and the results are all over the place."
The problem, from a conservationist's assessment, is that much of our environmentally friendly behavior doesn't help set social norms because the actions are not visible to others. Individuals have few methods of knowing that others in their neighborhood have recently installed an energy star appliance, insulated their attic or switched to fluorescent light bulbs.
The most persuasive language is to show that other people are doing what you want them to do. Humans want to be like other humans. It's natural, regardless of how irrational the decision. Robert Cialdini conducted research regarding hotel towels. In his experiments, Cialdini attempted to encourage guests to reuse their towels.
The experiment consisted of four groups. Group number one received a sign in their rooms that cited environmental reasons to encourage visitors to reuse their towels. Group number two received a sign in their rooms that stated the hotel would donate a portion of the annual laundry savings to an environmental cause. Group number three received signs that said the hotel had already given a donation and asked: "Will you please join us?". And group number four received signs in their rooms that stated majority of guests reused their towels at least once during their stay.
Hotel guests in group number one reused their towels 38 percent of the time. Hotel guests in group two reused their towels 36 percent of the time. Guests in group number three reused their towels 46 percent of the time, and most significant, guests in group four, that were told the majority of guests reused their towels at least once during their stay, reused their towels 48 percent of the time. Displaying proof that others are doing the same task will entice individuals to act upon the same request; therefore, reciprocation is king.