Journal of Consumer Policy

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 437–452 | Cite as

The Persistent Impacts of Norm-Based Messaging and Their Implications for Water Conservation

Original Paper

Abstract

Although an increasing number of studies have demonstrated the short-term impacts of behavioral nudges to achieve public policy objectives, less is known about their longer-term impacts. In a randomized experimental design with over 100,000 households, we study the longer-term impacts of a one-time behavioral nudge that aimed to induce voluntary reductions in water use during a drought. Combining technical information, moral suasion, and social comparisons, the nudge has a surprisingly persistent effect. Although its effect size declines by almost 50% after 1 year, it remains detectable and policy-relevant six years later. In fact, the total reduction in water use achieved after the 4-month period targeted by the intervention is larger than the total reduction achieved during the target period. Further analysis suggests that the intervention works through both short-lived behavioral adjustments and longer-lived adjustments to habits or physical capital. Treatment effects are not detectable in homes from which the treated consumers have moved, which provides suggestive evidence that these longer-lived adjustments are mobile rather than incorporated into the housing stock. The persistence of the effect makes the intervention more cost-effective than previously assumed (cost drops by almost 60%). Nevertheless, water utilities may find this persistence undesirable if the nudges are intended to have only a short-run effect on demand during environmental emergencies.

Keywords

Long-term impacts Behavioral channels Other regarding Pro-social Environmental policy Social norms 

References

  1. Allcott, H. (2011). Social norms and energy conservation. Journal of Public Economics, 95, 1082–1095.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allcott, H., & Rogers, T. (2012). The short-run and long-run effects of behavioral interventions: experimental evidence from energy conservation. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 18492. Google Scholar
  3. Ayres, I., Raseman, S., & Shih, A. (2013). Evidence from two large field experiments that peer comparison feedback can reduce residential energy usage. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 29(5), 992–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bonell, C., McKee, M., Fletcher, A., Wilkinson, P., & Haines, A. (2011). One nudge forward, two steps back. British Medical Journal, 342, d401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cialdini, R. B., Demaine, L. J., Sagarin, B. J., Barrett, D. W., Rhoads, K., & Winter, P. L. (2006). Managing social norms for persuasive impact. Social Influence, 1, 3–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis, L. (2012). Evaluating the slow adoption of energy efficient investments: are renters less likely to have energy efficient appliances? In D. Fullerton & C. Wolfram (Eds.), The design and implementation of U.S. climate policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. Dolan, P. & Metcalfe, R. (2013). Neighbors, knowledge, and nuggets: two natural field experiments on the role of incentives on energy conservation. CEP Discussion Paper No 1222. London, United Kingdom.Google Scholar
  8. Fanning, J.L. (2003). Water use in Georgia by county for 2000 and water-use trends for 1980–2000. Georgia Geologic Survey Information Circular 106. Georgia Geologic Survey, Atlanta, Georgia.Google Scholar
  9. Ferraro, P.J., Miranda, J. J., & Price, M. (2011). The persistence of treatment effects with non-pecuniary policy instruments: evidence from a randomized environmental policy experiment. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 101(3), 318–322.Google Scholar
  10. Ferraro, P. J., & Miranda, J. J. (2013). Heterogeneous treatment effects and mechanisms in information-based environmental policies: evidence from a large-scale field experiment. Resource and Energy Economics, 35, 318–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ferraro, P. J., & Price, M. (2013). Using non-pecuniary strategies to influence behavior: evidence from a large-scale field experiment. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 95(1), 64–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 472–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kurz, T., Donaghue, N., & Walker, I. (2005). Utilizing a social-ecological framework to promote water and energy conservation: a field experiment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, 1281–1300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Nolan, J. M., Schultz, P. W., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). Normative social influence is underdetected. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 913–923.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Schultz, P., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The constructive, destructive and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychological Science, 18, 429–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Shafir, E. (2013). The behavioural foundations of public policy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Thaler, R. H., & Sustain, C. R. (2008). Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. London: Penguin.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • María Bernedo
    • 1
  • Paul J. Ferraro
    • 1
  • Michael Price
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Economics, Andrew Young School of Policy StudiesGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations