Peer Pressure & Environmentalism Linked

Orato jpeg This post from Orato illustrates the benefits of using a peer pressure messaging strategy when trying to get consumers to go green.  Instead of having people choose to protect the environment for the greater good, convincing them that it's the norm is more likely to change their future behaviors.

Posted July 3, 2009

By Riley SmithOrato

Have you ever noticed the placard in your hotel bathroom encouraging you to reuse your towels, turn the lights off or conserve water? Do you wonder whether such efforts are well aligned with responsible environmentalism (instead of cost reductions) and whether they actually work? It depends.

The success relies on how the message is phrased. Messages such as 'it will help our costs' or 'it is important to be stewards of the planet' are ultimately not as successful when compared to messages governed by peer pressure.

Green 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 a mentality in the guest that pressures them to do what the placard recommends. Somewhat tricky and arguably manipulative, but effective.

New research in 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."

Social Norms Cause Change

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. As kids, our arguments often ended with 'well, everybody's doing it so you should do it too.' It seemed to work back then, but we have to make sure to use 'conformity' and 'social norms' for constructive, sustainable behavior. That way, we avoid the proverbial 'jumping off the cliff', just because someone else did it.

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