Peer Pressure Green? - Our Daily Green

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Peer Pressure Green?

Changing behavior is no easy mission. Change is difficult to adapt to if simply for the fact that altering patterns requires repeated effort. It takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become a habit.

This week, The Wall Street Journal published The Secret to Turning Consumers Green with this revealing conclusion:

It isn't financial incentives. It isn't more information.  It's guilt.

Traditional conservation campaigns have been "based on the premise that if we simply provide people with information, they will make changes in their lives," Mr. McKenzie-Mohr says. "We know pretty conclusively that's not true."
The most powerful aspect of social mobilization, researchers say, is that it tends to work on a subconscious level. Americans routinely tell pollsters that they would conserve energy to save the environment or to save money. Ask them if they'd conserve because their neighbors are doing it, and they scoff.
They have it backward. "We can move people to environmentally friendly behavior," says Mr. Cialdini, the psychologist, "by simply telling them what those around them are doing."

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Citing over 30 years of social science research about motivating behavioral change, the single most influential pull is peer pressure. If consumers believe the majority of other people are adopting a behavior, they will also. The possible backlash to this motivator is that green movements could be seen as a moral crusade to stigmatize non-compliance, which is a risky marketing tool.

The five cent bag tax in Washington DC has resulted in significantly less use of bags but researchers believe it is peer pressure, not cost, that has motivated the consumer. Customers must ask for the bags instead of receiving them automatically.

The flip side supports that a small financial incentive (or punishment) is not an adequate motivator. When stores rebate five cents off for each bag brought in, the motivator is not significant enough to change behavior. Festinger's classic study of cognitive dissonance supports the disconnect between the behavior and the reward. The more likely motivator is social pressure.

Fashion, television programming, popular music, even fads like the Silly Bands all have their roots in peer pressure. It's only logical that adopting green behavior would follow suit.

Have you ever changed your behavior based on the actions of your peers or do you consider yourself in a position to shape changes in behavior by setting the example?

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