So the environmentalists care about green buildings for all of these reasons. They care about building green buildings foremost because they see it as saving the planet. They also care about it because they think green buildings produce better learning environments for students. They also care about building green buildings because they know that it saves resources, like electricity and natural gas. And they care about it because of course doing all those things saves money. But that’s kind of secondary.
There’s a whole other set of people that identify specifically not as environmentalists and they can buy into green buildings too. But we have to understand what their underlying value is. And their core value is frugality and the value of frugality is just not wasting, we shouldn’t waste money, we shouldn’t waste people’s time, we shouldn’t waste natural resources. We should just eliminate waste and this idea of conserving is what unites both of those two ends of the political spectrum that are so likely to be fighting with each other. If we sell green buildings because they are conservative, because they conserve our money, our time, our resources and the resources can be money as well as environmental resources, if you sell it based on conservation, both sides, the left and the right, the environmentalists and the people who care about frugality will all buy in. But you must understand values and that’s how fundamentally different tactic than changing attitudes.
So we have one more way that common sense tends to leave us astray. People think they know what motivates them. Now you all are human beings and you think that because you’re a human being you’re qualified to say what motivates you. You are wrong. I know it makes you laugh. You actually don’t know. It’s kind of an insult to think I’m a human being and I can’t be counted on to identify what motivates me. But social scientists know this to be true.
So one of the biggest things that does influence our behavior is social norms. Street musicians know this and take advantage of it. It’s why they put coins and money into their guitar cases or whatever their musical cases on the ground, because we know that when other people are doing something, other people are more likely to follow. What the street musicians don’t know is that feeding their case isn’t really enough because you haven’t actually seen another person doing it. What they really should be doing is bringing their friend with them and asking their friend to come by every five minutes and drop a dollar. And any time there’s no action, and you just walk by and drop something in.
The number one predictor of giving money to a street musician is walking past the musician directly behind someone who did contribute. That’s the greatest predictor. That you saw somebody else do it, that increases the likelihood that you will do it.
Now, unfortunately, social norms are a great motivator of behavior and they are the most understood and underestimated by human beings. So how many of you have been to a hotel and have seen the wonderful message: ‘Please reuse your towel and help us save the environment.’ OK, hotels are using the least effective message that they could possibly use. Now the reason they’re using that is because they asked people. They said, ‘Which one of these messages will motivate you the most to change your behavior?’ And people said, ‘If you ask me to protect the environment that will work and if you tell me that other people are doing it, I’m going to report’. I really — I don’t think that’s a very effective message.
The sad news is that social scientists especially psychologists like to do experiments and when you do an experiment and expose people to different messages, you discover that social norms have the biggest impact on behavior. If you tell people 75% of the people in this hotel room reuse their towels, you will get the biggest bang for your buck. If you ask people to save the environment you will be about half as effective as if you told people that other people are doing it. So not only are social norms really effective but they’re really underestimated. Not only do human beings not know what motivates them, they reverse the order of importance. So if you ask people you will design a campaign around their priorities that is the least effective that it possibly can be.
So let’s go back to this one: how many of you thought ‘A’ will be the most effective? Be honest, raise your hands. How many of you thought ‘A’? All right. Now you know that you’re wrong.
How many of you thought ‘B’? All right. We have some social scientists in the crowd, some people who have taken one of my classes or someone elses and you know that B is the most effective because it utilizes social norms. And it also uses modeling, it shows someone doing the behavior that you are interested in.
What’s wrong with A is that it sets the inadvertent norm, the behavior that you’re not interested in having people do, you’re like everybody leaders and since social norms are the most influential you can create campaigns that are not only — does this say the wrong thing? Why are we laughing? Not only can you be ineffective in your campaign, many people including the federal government have created social norms campaigns that increase the behavior that they’re trying to reduce, because they use social norms in a way that is ineffective, because they don’t know about their importance.