We discuss what makes a “good” environmental nudge from the policy maker’s point of view. We first delineate what is paternalistic about environmental nudges. We then discuss the effectiveness of nudges, including their paradoxical effects on the targeted behaviour, as well as possible collateral effects on the decision-maker’s wellbeing. We also discuss why the libertarian and ethical aspect of nudges may render them more, and not less, attractive as policy instruments and decision aids. We conclude by discussing accuracy and privacy concerns of information-based nudges, and with some recommendations for the design of effective and ethical nudges.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
We assume that protection of the individual is the primary motive of the state in these examples, although we recognize that in many countries minimizing state-subsidized health-care and social security costs will also be a secondary motive.
Again, there may be some personal benefits for the drivers targeted by such measures, such as reduced risk of accidents. But we assume for the sake of argument that this is not the principal motive for introducing such measures.
For example, the CNIL (Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés) in France has established a legal framework specifying rights and obligations concerning three different kinds of data exchange in “intelligent” buildings (cf. http://www.cnil.fr/linstitution/actualite/article/article/innovation-dans-le-pilotage-energetique-du-logement-un-pack-de-conformite-pour-les-compteurs-c/). This framework seeks to respect the privacy of the consumer during the implementation of energy saving programmes in France.
Allcott H (2011) Social norms and energy conservation. J Public Econ 95:1082–1095
Allcott H, Mullainathan S (2010) Behaviour and energy policy. Science 327:1204–1205
Allcott H, Rogers T (2014) The short-run and long-run effects of behavioural interventions: experimental evidence from energy conservation. Am Econ Rev 104:3003–3037
Baca-Motes K, Brown A, Gneezy A, Keenan EA, Nelson LD (2012) Commitment and behavior change: evidence from the field. J Consum Res 39(5):1070–1084
Becker LJ (1978) Joint effect of feedback and goal setting on performance: a field study of residential energy conservation. J Appl Psychol 63(4):428–433
Bolderdijk JW, Steg L, Geller ES, Lehman PK, Postmes T (2013) Comparing the effectiveness of monetary versus moral motives in environmental campaigning. Nat Clim Change 3:413–416
Choi J, Laibson D, Madrian C (2004) Plan design and 401(k) savings outcomes. Natl Tax J 57:275–298
Costa DL, Kahn ME (2013) Energy conservation “nudges” and environmentalist ideology: evidence from a randomized residential electricity field experiment. J Eur Econ Assoc 11:680–702
Croson R, Treich N (2014) Behavioural environmental economics: promises and challenges. Environ Resour Econ 58:335–351
Demarque C, Charalambides L, Hilton DJ, Waroquier L (2015) Nudging sustainable consumption: the use of descriptive norms to promote a minority behavior in a realistic online shopping environment. J Environ Psychol 43:166–174
Dickerson CA, Thobodeau R, Aronson E, Miller D (1992) Using cognitive dissonance to encourage water conservation. J Appl Soc Psychol 22:841–854
Ebeling F, Lotz S (2015) Domestic uptake of green energy promoted by opt-out tariffs. Nat Clim Change 5(9):868
Ferraro PJ, Price MK (2013) Using non-pecuniary strategies to influence behavior: evidence from a large-scale field experiment. Rev Econ Stat 95:64–73
Ferraro PJ, Miranda JJ, Price MK (2011) The persistence of treatment effects with norm-based policy instruments: evidence from a randomized environmental policy experiment. Am Econ Rev Pap Proc 101:318–322
Goldstein N, Cialdini R, Griskevicius V (2008) A room with a viewpoint: using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. J Consum Res 35:472–482
Halpern D (2016) Inside the nudge unit: how small changes can make a big difference. Penguin Random House, New York City
Janis IL, Feshbach S (1953) The effect of fear-arousing communications. J Soc Abnorm Psychol 48:78–92
Johnson E, Goldstein D (2003) Do defaults save lives? Science 302:1338–1339
Kallbekken S, Saelen H (2013) Nudging hotel guests to reduce food wastes as a win–win environmental measure. Econ Lett 119:325–327
Kantola SJ, Syme GJ, Campbell NA (1984) Cognitive dissonance and energy conservation. J Appl Psychol 69(3):416
Locke EA, Latham GP (2002) Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: a 35-year odyssey. Am Psychol 57:705
Madrian B, Shea D (2001) The power of suggestion: inertia in 401(k) participation and savings behaviour. Q J Econ 116:1149–1187
McGuire WJ (1969) The nature of attitudes and attitude change. In: Lindzey G, Aronson E (eds) The handbook of social psychology, vol 3, 2nd edn. Addison-Wesley, Massachusetts, pp 136–314
Nolan JM, Schultz PW, Cialdini RB, Goldstein NJ, Griskevicius V (2008) Normative social influence is underdetected. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 34:913–923
Panzone L (2014) Substitutability of behaviours and compliance to environmental public policy: How many gestures consumers have to make to feel sustainable? Unpublished paper, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester
Peltzman S (1975) The effects of automobile safety regulation. J Polit Econ 83:677–726
Pichert D, Katsikopoulosa K (2008) Green defaults: information presentation and pro-environmental behaviour. J Environ Psychol 28:63–73
Sale L (2012) Higher or lower? Carbon footprint as consumer guesswork. Working paper, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester
Schultz PW, Nolan JM, Cialdini RB, Goldstein NJ, Griskevicius V (2007) The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychol Sci 18:429–434
Schultz PW, Khazian AM, Zaleski AC (2008) Using social normative influence to promote conservation among hotel guests. Soc Influ 3:4–23
Sunstein CR (2014) Valuing life: humanizing the regulatory state. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Sunstein CR, Reisch LA (2014) Automatically green: behavioural economics and environmental protection. Harv Environ Law Rev 38(1):127–158
Thaler RH, Sunstein CR (2008) Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. Penguin Books, London
Wallenborn G (2015) Les compteurs communicants et leurs (non)usagers. To appear in M-C Zélem, Beslay C. La Sociologie de l’Energie. Gouvernance de l’Action Publique, Pratiques Sociales et Outils du Changement, Paris, Ed CNRS. Collection Alpha
The first two authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Grant ANR-2010-CEPL-009-02).
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Hilton, D., Treich, N., Lazzara, G. et al. Designing effective nudges that satisfy ethical constraints: the case of environmentally responsible behaviour. Mind Soc 17, 27–38 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11299-019-00201-8