Please Stop Saving Our Planet

"Accidental Mappage" by Tom Magliery via Flickr.com, (cc) some rights reserved. 

"Accidental Mappage" by Tom Magliery via Flickr.com, (cc) some rights reserved. 

Reusing hotel towels really does help save water and energy—and and a lot of money for hotel operators, too. 

But they could be saving even more, if they dumped the ubiquitous "Save Our Planet" pitch to encourage conservation among guests, according to a study in the March issue of The Journal of Social Psychology.

Researchers tested guest-room signs with three different messages: 

1. A traditional environmental protection message, similar to the ones we've all encountered in hotels over the past decade. 

2. A behavioral message that referenced fellow guests at the same hotel ("75 percent of the guests in this hotel usually use their towels more than once").

3. A behavioral message that referenced guests who used the same room ("75 percent of the guests in this room usually use their towels more than once"). 

Sign #3 was the most effective, reducing average per-person towel usage by as much as 40 percent (roughly 1 towel per guest versus 1.6 towels) over the two alternatives. 

According to one of the researchers: "People want to be accepted into groups and so we act in ways that make us belong. Instinctively, we feel close to those who have used a hotel room before us, believing they are similar to ourselves."

Hotel operators and marketers alike can learn a lot from the study (and similar ones that have preceded it): Consumers are more likely to change their behaviors in response to localized "social norms" than to global environmental appeals. 

In other words, the best way to save the planet is to stop talking about saving the planet.