Cues and counter productivity – on recycling...

Reduce, reuse, recycle. A famous combination Jack Johnson sang a song about. I have always been enthusiast about the idea of recycling. And I wanted to write a blog about cues. Just now that I planned that blog, I came across some evidence that suggests that cues pointing at recycling may make us more polluting… Recent research shows us recycling might lead to more usage; shooting its own foot. Recycling already is number three It is for good reasons they put reduce in front of reuse and recycling: energy saving and environment benefit more from the non-usage of products. Recycling comes third. And rightly so: a recycled product is reprocessed and hence is the least efficient one of the three R’s. If recycled products lead to more usage, Jack Johnson might want to change his song… Recycling in companies A lot of companies these days have pro-environmental policies. Two very common focus points are about paper: don’t print what need not be printed and put waste-paper in the paper bin. The biggest problem in the recycling chains is human behavior: it is non-predictable and often inconsistent with intentions. Intentions are often in place: people want to recycle their paper. Research by Holland, Aarts and Langendam shows that a cue on the desktop helps people to recycle both paper and plastic cups more often. A minor cue reminds them of their intentions. Holland, Aarts and Langendam used mini recycle bins on the tables to achieve this gain. The licensing effect Doing something good, like a though workout or eating a really healthy meal, can make us feel like we deserve a treat. Often this ends up with a neutralization of the good we did before: we take desert after our...

Broken windows

You find it annoying that people don’t do waste separation? The saying “do not do to others what you would not like to be done to you” sounds mostly morally binding but in this context it actually makes a lot of sense and should make us think twice. Social proof  makes us copy the behavior others show. This – of course – also means that others will copy our behavior. Also our bad behavior. Broken window theory Wilson and Kelly found that a sign with a prohibition was more easily ignored if others left marks of disregard. Keizer, Lindenberg and Steg did some great real-life experiments showing this principle. A ‘don’t cycle here’ sign combined with a parked bike in the area let to more people going through with their bikes. A sign with ‘no graffiti’ and graffiti on the wall let to more waste disposal in the area. Not only do we disregard prohibitions if we see others doing the same, we also ignore other general rules (like the fact that you are not supposed to throw waste on the floor). Now back to your office So all those other people at work are not separating their waste and this annoys you so much that you refuse to do it yourself too. By the way… their inappropriate behavior also makes it very difficult for you to decide what waste bin should be used, right? In your frustration you decide to put a sign on the wall pointing at the unwanted behavior. This sign, together with the mess, will be an even stronger social proof for the others to not separate their waste. What could you do? Create an environment that points towards the wished behavior. If you want...