Money not always the best incentive for sustainable travel

By Jan Christiaens / Updated: 23 Sep 2014
Many campaigns are based on using money as an argument to convince people to behave more sustainably as appealing to environmental awareness is believed to be less effective. However, a recent study published by a Dutch psychologist challenges this wide-spread assumption.
Money is powerful at convincing people as advertisers are well aware. But people don’t care about money alone, they also care about positive self-image and like to attribute integrity, honesty and good morals to that image. Psychologist J.W. Bolderdijk believes this has consequences for campaigns concerning improving the environment. Possibly, people like to see themselves more as someone who is environmentally aware than they would see themselves portrayed as stingy or economical. Consequently, environmental arguments may appeal more to these people than hard economic arguments.

The above assumption was tested using two groups. The first group received the message “Want to save money? Check your tyres!” and the other group received the message “Do you care about the environment? Check your tyres!”. Both groups were asked how they would feel if they were to comply with the calls for action. The participants responded better to the environmental effects than about saving money.

In addition, the research team placed coupons for free tyre checks at a gas station in Virginia, USA. Each pile of vouchers had a different message placed alongside them on a sandwich board: save money, positive environmental effects, safety and one pile without a message serving as a control. Much to the surprise of the team, the environmental message had the biggest effect: more coupons were taken from that pile. From the pile of coupons with the economic message no coupons were taken. Highlighting that little economic advantages can lead to negative effects, according to Bolderdijk:

People like to feel good about themselves. Most of us prefer the image of being green than an image of being stingy or economical. To be able to sustain a positive self-image can be an important driver for sustainable behaviour. Governments and consultants could take that into account when designing new campaigns.

Source: Nature
Policy and research