Saving Power to Conserve Your Reputation? The effectiveness of private versus Public Information
Magali Delmas and Neil Lessem
Environmental damage is usually an unseen byproduct of other activities, with consumers and those around them unaware of the harm they are causing. Private information about the environmental impact of their own actions can help consumers reduce the costs of conservation behavior or increase the moral benefit of conserving. If this same information is disclosed publicly, it provides an additional motivation for conservation – reputation. By making green actions visible, public information allows environmentally friendly behaviors to act as a signal of green virtue. In this paper we contrast the efficacy of private information with that of public information in a unique field experiment in the residence halls at the University of California – Los Angeles. We provide private information to residents in the form of real-time feedback over energy usage and social norms, while public information takes the form of a publicly visible energy conservation rating. While we find no average effect of private information, we did find that that public information effectively motivated electricity users to reduce consumption by 20 percent. This reduction was sustained even after public information was no longer being disclosed.
Published: Friday, January 27, 2012