Applied Behavior Science for Health and Happiness
Opting Into a Green Choice vs. Opting Out
Opting Into a Green Choice vs. Opting Out

Opting Into a Green Choice vs. Opting Out

Opting (3)Perhaps you’ve stayed in a major chain hotel in the past few years. If you have, you may have noticed many chains are beginning to focus on more sustainable environmental practices within their hotels. Many of the hotel rooms I stay in now have recycle bins alongside the trash cans, toiletries are packaged using more environmentally-friendly materials, and some hotel chains offer small incentives to forgo daily laundry service. I am, in general, a fan of these efforts, since I am horrified by the thought of how much waste a hotel must generate (all those half-used bars of soap!).

I'd be very interested in participating, except it wasn't made as easy as it could have been.
I’d be very interested in participating, except it wasn’t made as easy as it could have been.

That said, I did not make the “green choice” during my most recent Sheraton stay, and it wasn’t even deliberate. I was only staying one night, and would have been happy to relinquish freshly washed sheets during that time, even without the $5 snack credit Sheraton offered. But the “green choice” was structured as an opt-in: Hotel guests must either hang a provided sign on their door or contact the front desk to participate. If you left the card on the bed, where it was put by the housekeeping staff, then you automatically received the typical level of service including fresh linens.

It completely escaped my attention that I should hang this sign on my door. Like many other hotel guests, I failed to make the green choice during my stay.

By leaving the sign where I found it, I opted out of a program that actually interested me.
By leaving the sign where I found it, I opted out of a program that actually interested me.

Research has consistently shown that asking people to opt out of something gets higher participation rates than asking them to opt in. This has been demonstrated with participation in 401k investments and (with caveats) organ donation. Thaler and Sunstein have advocated for these sorts of environmental structures to guide people toward choices that are good on both individual and societal levels. If Sheraton is really serious about getting people to waive their laundry service, then they would do well to make it so that guests spend effort to opt out, not opt in.

So Sheraton: Hang that green choice door tag for your guests and make them take it down if they feel differently. Put it somewhere else in the hotel room, and ask guests to move it to the bed if they want fresh sheets. I bet you’d be washing a whole lot fewer sheets with just a few changes.