What unsustainable behavior needs to change:
The hotel industry is dealing with a tremendous amount of used towels that need to be washed every day, leading to very high amounts of water consumption. Notably, there has been more and more pressure for hotels from the industry as well as guests, to behave more sustainably. As a result, the question popped up if towels could be reused during one’s stay or if guests need a fresh towel every day. Presumably, trying to engage guests in a towel-reuse program will help to conserve environmental resources such as saving on water and energy. To give an idea, refraining from washing a 10kg towel load saves at least 50 litres of water and 1.2 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
The Green Nudge:
In 2008, Goldstein, Cialdini & Griskevicius conducted two studies investigating how the hotel industry could increase hotel guest participation in towel-reuse programs. The program is designed in such a way that consumers see a strategically placed card in their hotel room with a specific text, opening them up to think about using their towel again or having it washed. Participation of guests in this program would lead to hotels saving tremendous amounts of water and energy.
The findings: A card placed in the room with a standard environmental message “help save the environment” led to 37.2% of cases reusing towels. While significant, the study has found that other types of messages can be even more impactful, – particularly, messages focusing on social influence. For example when using a descriptive norm as in “75% of the guests participated in our new program” this type of signalling appeared to be an effective method. Another example used inviting language to instil more incentive in hotel guests: “Join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment”. Although effective at increasing towel reuse to 44% — even more convincing was when hotels presented guests with a card mentioning other guests’ behaviour in the exact same room: i.e. “75% of the guests that stayed in this room opted to reuse their towels.” This ultimately led to nearly half of the towels to be reused (49,3%).
This study proved that targeted and place-based social modelling had the most effective nudging.