Rady Professor Ayelet Gneezy Examines Consumer Conservation Motivation in New Paper

We've all been to hotels and seen the little signs asking us to reuse our towels to conserve resources. However, do those signs actually motivate us to reuse towels during our stay? Hotel towel reuse can significantly reduce a hotel's environmental impact by saving water and energy resources. It is estimated that a 10% reduction in energy use by the U.S. Hospitality Industry would cut greenhouse gas emissions by six million tons. Hotels want guests to reuse towels to conserve resources and save money, but what steps can hotels take to get consumers to comply with their towel reuse request? A new paper published online in the Journal of Consumer Research by Rady Professor Ayelet Gneezy, outlines a study that examined easy, cost-effective approaches hotels can use to encourage guests to engage in sustainable behavior.

Gneezy studied hotel towel reuse at a large California resort hotel and found that when consumers were asked at check-in to commit in writing to towel reuse, they were far more likely to reuse their towels. In addition, some guests who chose to commit in writing to towel reuse also received a small "Friend for the Earth" lapel pin to publically display their commitment. The study results show that when guests made a specific commitment to reuse towels and received a "Friend of the Earth" pin, they were 25% more likely to reuse towels and hung up over 40% more used towels compared to guest who did not make a commitment. This indicates that the pin acted as a reminder to activate the environmental commitment of the guests.

The research suggests that hotels (and other businesses) may have more success in positively influencing consumer behavior when they take simple steps to directly engage with consumers. In fact, asking consumers to make a commitment and allowing them to display that commitment may lead to positive results for businesses in unexpected ways. In Gneezy's study, guests who made a specific commitment and received a pin were also more likely to turn off the lights in their room when they left compared to the control groups. This demonstrates that the guest's commitment to reusing towels also motivated them act more sustainably in other areas as well.

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