Companies often encourage consumers to engage in sustainable behaviors using their services in a more environmentally friendly or green way, such as reusing the towels in a hotel or replacing paper bank statements by electronic statements. Sometimes, the option of green service is implied as the default and consumers can opt-out, while in other cases consumers need to explicitly ask (opt-in) for switching to a green service. This research examines the effectiveness of choice architecture and particularly the different default policies—i.e., the alternative the consumer receives if he/she does not explicitly request otherwise—in engaging consumer green behavior. In four experiments, we show that the opt-out default policy is more effective than the opt-in, because it increases anticipated guilt. This effect is stronger for consumers who are less conscious for the environment (Study 1).We also show that a forced choice policy, in which the consumer is not automatically assigned to any condition and is forced to choose between the green and the non-green service option, is more effective than the opt-in policy and not significantly more effective than the opt-out policy (Study 2). Finally, we show that the role of defaults is weakened (enhanced), if a negotiated (reciprocal) cooperation strategy is used (Study 3). The article contributes to the literature of defaults and provides managerial and public policy implications for the design of green services.
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The research paper is implemented within the framework of the Action « Supporting Postdoctoral Researchers » of the Operational Program “Education and Lifelong Learning” (Action’s Beneficiary: General Secretariat for Research and Technology), and is co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Greek State.
Study 1: Opt-in condition
Study 1: Opt-out condition
Study 2a: Opt-in condition
Study 2a: Forced choice condition
Study 2a: Opt-out condition
Environmental Concern (Kilbourne et al. 2002)
I am concerned about the environment.
I buy environmentally friendly products whenever possible.
I reduce household waste whenever possible.
I use products made from recycled material whenever possible.
I buy organic food whenever possible.
Anticipated Guilt (Dahl et al. 2005)
I feel irresponsible if I don’t participate in the towel reuse program.
I feel guilty if I don’t participate in the towel reuse program.
I feel accountable about not helping to protect the environment.
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Theotokis, A., Manganari, E. The Impact of Choice Architecture on Sustainable Consumer Behavior: The Role of Guilt. J Bus Ethics 131, 423–437 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-014-2287-4