Study: Conformity Stronger Message than Conservation When Promoting Towel Reuse

Bruce Beggs |

CHICAGO — People are more likely to reuse hotel towels if they know other guests are doing it, too, according a new study published in this month’s Journal of Consumer Research.
Authors Noah J. Goldstein (UCLA), Robert B. Cialdini (Arizona State University) and Vladas Griskevicius (University of Minnesota) determined that the types of signs posted in hotel bathrooms influenced guests differently, and that signs focusing on the environmental benefits were less effective than signs that pointed out the level of participation of other guests.
In the study, researchers set out to boost participation in the towel reuse program of an unidentified major hotel chain. The hotel’s manager and staff allowed the researchers to create a series of different towel reuse cards, which were placed in the guest rooms’ bathrooms.
Some of the cards read, “Help Save the Environment,” while others read, “Join Your Fellow Guests in Helping Save the Environment.”
Both provided information on how resources are preserved when guests reuse towels; room attendants recorded the reuse rates. Cards that focused on the level of participation of other guests, which essentially conveyed that it’s normal to participate, increased the percentage of participation from 35.1% to 44.1%.
“These experiments are aimed at better understanding the factors that motivate customers to engage in actions for the benefit of the environment,” the authors explained in a joint statement. “This important topic, along with pro-social behavior in general, is a severely understudied area of consumer research.”
In a second study, the researchers were able to boost towel reuse even further by placing a sign in the room that read 75% of guests in that specific room reused their towels.
“The results of our studies have clear implications for marketers, managers and policymakers,” the authors say. “It is worth noting that the normative messages, which were messages that we have never seen utilized by hotel chains, fared significantly better at spurring participation in the hotel’s environmental conservation program than did the type of message most commonly utilized by hotel chains — messages that focus on the importance of environmental protection.”
The American Hotel & Lodging Association’s (AH&LA) Green Assessment Survey results reveal that 85% of respondents’ properties have a linen reuse program for guests who stay multiple nights, and 83.5% offer a towel reuse program. Those survey results were based on 217 responses from AH&LA member hotels.
Most guests will participate in linen/towel reuse programs if “the right message is delivered the right way,” says Ray Burger, president of Pineapple Hospitality, a St. Charles, Mo., company that offers customizable linen and towel reuse cards.
“We’ve seen the research that cards customized to a specific hotel, or even a specific room, can make all the difference in getting your guests to act,” Burger says.

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.


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