The results of a large survey I conducted with my fellow environmental researcher, Wes Schultz, produced a pair of actionable results. First, people who thought their neighbors were conserving energy were more likely to conserve themselves. Second, at the same time, almost all of the nearly 3,000 survey respondents underestimated the conservation efforts of their neighbors. This suggests a simple way to increase conservation activity—by trumpeting the true levels of conservation that are going unrecognized.
To investigate this idea, we examined resource conservation choices in an entirely different setting—upscale hotel rooms, where guests often encounter a card asking them to reuse their towels. As anyone who travels frequently knows, although the wording of this card may vary somewhat, it always requests compliance for the sake of the environment. What the card never says, however, is that the great majority of guests do, in fact, reuse their towels when given the opportunity. We suspected that this omission was costing the hotels—and the environment—plenty.