If you have kids, I bet you tell your kids not to give into peer pressure. I bet you tell your kids not to take drugs or drink alcohol just because their friends are doing them. But on the flip side, I bet you want to follow what your neighbors or your colleagues are doing, secretly. I bet you want to make your garden just as pretty as your next-door neighbor or work just as late as your colleague. Well, you are not alone. It turns out, peer pressure or social pressure dictates our behavior whether we are aware of it or not. And in some instances, especially when dealing with environment issues, that’s a good thing because studies have shown that peer pressure makes people become more eco friendly.
Take hotel towels, for example. Noah Goldstein who holds a Ph.D. in social psychology and teaches at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, states that when people read the signs that say other hotel guests reused their towels sometime during their stay, recycling went up by twenty six percent. When the guests were told that others did re-used their dirty towels in that room, recycling went up by thirty three percent. I admit, I used to use clean towels all the time when I stayed at hotels until I started seeing those cards too. I know. My bad. But now I don’t. I use the same towels if I’m staying for less than three days and I don’t change the sheets either.
I guess peer pressure is a lot like wanting to eat at a busy restaurant rather than at an empty restaurant. One would think, “if all these people like to eat here, food must be good here, so I should eat here.” I know I do. But my reasoning is that since there’s a better turnover at a busier restaurant, the ingredients would be fresher.
Fortunately, this type of peer pressure findings translates into energy companies’ marketing strategy too. According to Alex Laskey who heads Positive Energy, a company that helps utilities cut their customers’ energy use in Washington State, “Despite the fact that your mother and my mother told us countless times that it doesn’t matter what the neighbors do — “I set the rules in this house” — it turns out at the end of the day, we are all driven by our perceptions of what the neighbors are doing.”
Puget Sound Energy, one of Laskey’s customers, implemented a campaign to tell 40,000 customers how much their energy use was compared to their neighbors. Initial reactions from the customers were negative, citing invasion of privacy. But most customers stayed with the pilot program and as one customer found out, he was out-saving his neighbors and he felt he can do better. The final result of the study is not known yet but the utility company is optimistic about the outcome as a similar study in California showed success.
According to Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace, online public media radio show, “Habits can be hard to change, especially later in life. But when it comes to fixing our bad environmental habits, it might be time to go back to high school. There’s a growing body of research that shows peer pressure may be the most effective way to get people to behave in a more eco-friendly manner. That’s opposed, of course, to the classic do-gooder appeals that are so common in the environmental movement.”
So the next time you recycle, make sure your neighbors and colleagues see that you recycle. Peer pressure will do them good for the environment.