Why and how it works
Research in behavioural economics have shown that many of the decisions that people make on a day to day basis happen without us making an active choice. One explanation to this is that our brains try to use mental shortcuts when it can in order to save energy for more demanding tasks. As a result we tend to opt for the pre-selected options that are exposed to us. One of the most common examples is the GPS that gives us an example of how to travel between A and B. Although there may be alternative routes that are faster most of us tend to trust and follow the instructions given by the GPS. Unconsciously we are also affected by how the surrounding environment encourages us to behave, which is clearly illustrated by the example on the following page.
This strategy is about getting people to act green more or less unconsciously. Larger behavioural changes such as encouraging people to use public transport or biking instead of taking their car is hard to do by default. Since the strategy deals with unconscious acts it is unlikely that the changes will have a spillover effect on other behaviour.
Recommendations for implementation
There are many ways in which organisations, municipalities and companies can make sure that environmentally friendly choices are promoted and encouraged as the pre-selected option. Two simple examples are to encourage vegetarian food by making it the standard option at an event or in a restaurant and to make sure that printers in the office are automati- cally programmed to print double-sided sheets. Default-strategies can also have a great effect on people’s choices. Reserch from Germany shows that promoting green energy as the default option can have a large impact even when it’s more costly.
Example: Reducing waste by using smaller plates
A chef working at one of the Nordic Choice Hotels in Sweden was concerned about the amount of food waste resulting from customers taking more food than they could eat. He thought using smaller plates might help, and found indications that food waste was reduced by as much as half. The example inspired the newly founded Norwegian foundation, GreeNudge, initiated by Dr Gunhild Stordalen, the wife of the owner of Nordic Choice Hotels, to conduct a greater study among the hotels to see what effect reducing plate sizes could have on food waste.
The research project was conducted in collaboration with the Norwegian climate research agency CICERO. 90 hotels were initially select- ed and divided into three different groups where one were given smaller plates (21 cm compared to 24 cm), a second group was provided with information about food waste placed by the buffet and the third acted as a control group. During the first month of the trial all participating hotels reported on their daily food waste. The experiment with smaller plates and informa- tion was then introduced and run during an addi- tional period of 1.5 month. 51 of the hotels delivered data that could be used in the final analysis. 7 of these hotels hade introduced smaller plates, 6 had placed information about food waste on the buffet and the remaining 38 acted as a control group.
The result showed that the hotels that were given smaller plates reduced their food waste with 19.5 per cent during the experiment, which proved to be a statistically significant change. Compared to the control group, where no change was made the reducation was equiva- lent to 15 per cent. The research also showed that food waste was in general lower at those hotels in the control group that from the start of the experiment had smaller plate sizes that the others, giving further support to the findings and their long term effect. It was calculated that if smaller plates was to be introduced at all current 170 hotels, Nordic Choice Hotels could save up to 613 tonnes of food waste equivalent to 1 166 tonnes of CO2. It should be noted that also the hotels using information signs reduced their food waste with 20 per cent during the experiment but the variations among the hotels were greater and the effect seemed to diminish at the end of the trial.