“Green nudges”, small green pushes in favor of the environment

First five polar bears are seen on the shower head, then four, three, two, one. The message: the shorter the shower, the more polar bears survive. The engineers who developed the Swiss product were able to show in studies that people shower less and save an average of 22 percent energy when they are aware of what they are using or consuming.

Polar bears are a so-called “green nudge” or “green push”, an incentive to behave in a more ecological and respectful way with the environment. The “green nudging” concept, which seeks to promote more benign behavior towards the environment without the need for major bans or new regulations, is on the rise.

The polar bears are intended to illustrate the consequences of climate change: those who consume a lot of energy contribute to greenhouse gases. These cause global warming, which cause melting and threaten the habitat of polar bears.

Energiekonsens, a non-profit environmental agency in the northern German state of Bremen, assists companies in implementing “green nudging”. Until now it has already advised more than 20 firms with all kinds of products.

In a fish delicatessen company, employees used to leave the doors of the cold rooms open for convenience, thus consuming energy unnecessarily. Currently, next to the doors there are large screens with the temperature and a smiley: if the temperature is too high, you can see a red smiley with the corners of the mouth turned down; if it is correct, a green smiley smiles from the screen. Conclusion: Over a 25-day period, 19 percent fewer sharp temperature drops were required to re-cool the chambers than in the same period before.

A design, architecture and construction company for trade fairs has recently placed the lowest CO2-emitting means of transport at the top of its company car reservation system. In addition to electric bicycles, electric cars and gasoline and diesel vehicles are offered. An informative event with an electric bike rally was also organized to test them. Since then, bookings for gasoline cars have decreased from 26 to 19 percent, those of electric cars have increased from 37 to 41 percent and those of electric bicycles from 36 to 40 percent.

“In green nudging, nothing is forbidden and nothing is rewarded,” says Bremen project manager Astrid Stehmeier. “You leave people as they are, but you change the decision-making environment,” she adds, explaining that many people would like to behave more climate-friendly, but are stuck in a rut without think too much.

Often, he continues, simply changing the default settings is enough: for example, the office air conditioner might turn off routinely at a certain time, or the dishwasher might automatically adjust itself to the eco-friendly wash cycle. Anyone who wants to can easily change the settings. “The ‘green push’ is a simple instrument for climate protection, and does not require major changes,” Stehmeier points out.

The concept of “nudging” was coined by the American behavioral economists Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, the latter a Nobel Prize winner in 2017. Both demonstrated how people can be persuaded to change their behavior without coercion through small suggestions from companies or authorities.

Isn’t that some kind of manipulation? “It is about offering an alternative behavior that is beneficial for the environment and the general public,” says Elisabeth Duetschke, from the German research center Fraunhofer, and points out that there is nothing wrong with that.

The psychologist adds that one could speak of manipulation in the supermarket, where people are induced to make purchases by “pushing”, for example, placing sweets, alcoholic beverages and cigarettes in strategic places so that they attract the attention of customers, for example, while queuing to pay.

The “nudges”, says Duetschke, work: “We must not miss the potential of these incentives.” However, the academic doubts that these pushes turn people into defenders of the environment who were not before.

Stehmeier has verified that a concrete datum is usually enough as a “push”. For example, if there are symbols on the office rubbish bins that indicate exactly where each piece of waste goes. By applying this strategy, one company has managed to increase the proportion of correctly classified waste stations from 46 to 71 percent.

Another example is the shower with the polar bears, which shows the consumption of water and energy. The Amphiro company also allows you to connect the shower head to a mobile phone through an application. In this way, you can set the speed with which the polar bears disappear.

In the application, shower users can follow the evolution of their energy consumption. The company is present on Instagram with information like this: “A second of hot shower consumes as much energy as charging a mobile phone.”


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“Green nudges”, small green pushes in favor of the environment