Two readers, three nudges

University of Chicago grad (and now GSB staffer) Jasmine Kwong proposes two nudges. One for bathrooms (in organizations that don’t have a John Coleman).

Why are bathroom lights in office buildings always left on even while people aren’t using them? I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person using the bathroom closest to my office at work who turns off the lights after they’re done. A colleague actually laughed at me for doing this. My nudge is for companies and institutions to put little notes by bathroom light switches to get more people to turn off the lights on their way out, provided that no one is still in the bathroom, of course. Once it becomes somewhat of a social norm for office bathroom lights to be turned off when not in use, these notes can include descriptive norms, which are rather effective according to Noah Goldstein and his colleagues’ findings on different kinds of hotel messages urging guests to reuse their towels. This nudge will probably not work in larger bathrooms where it would be too hard for people to check whether they’re the last to leave, but that still leaves plenty of bathrooms.

And one for recycling bins:

As with my bathroom lights scenario, it frustrates me to see so many people come out of a lunch meeting and throw their recyclables into the garbage bin. It would make it easier to see the bins and harder to forget or ignore them – and therefore more likely that they would be used – if there were messages or pictures with arrows on, above, or right by the bins. Pictures of cans/bottles, newspapers, and junk on the appropriate bins could nudge people very effectively, but many bins still don’t have them. Furthermore, garbage and recycling bins could use some serious revamping not only to make it more fun for people to put things in the appropriate bins but even just to throw things away in the first place! For instance, a small basketball hoop could be placed right above the cans/bottles bin, or a mechanism akin to that of a musical box could be built such that a pleasant tune is played each time paper is pushed into the papers bin, and so on.

Plus, a short and sweet nudge from reader Susan McAmis. If you want to waste gas driving, McAmis thinks your car should make you uncomfortable.

How about a warning device that plays an unpleasant sound–screeching, klaxon, e.g.–when a driver accelerates or decelerates too quickly. The driver can still choose to make quick speed changes.



3 Responses to “Two readers, three nudges”

  1. LemmusLemmus Says:

    As for the bathroom thing, I’ve been seeing the technical solution for this for years (in Germany): Some bathrooms have sensors and automatically turn on the lights when someone enters and turn them off when nobody’s there. I wonder why I don’t see these more often – I mean, this saves money. Two possible answers I can think of: 1) These devices are extremely expensive. 2) Many bathrooms have enough windows so that a lot of daylight comes in during the day, and you can’t programme the devices to only work at night, so they’re relatively inefficient.

  2. Winston Says:

    Yes, bathrooms in some newer office buildings have motion detectors for the lights. Sometimes you need a nudge but sometimes you need to just take the humans out of the decision-making.

  3. Jasmine Kwong Says:

    I agree that motion sensors would be great, but for places that couldn’t easily have them either because they couldn’t afford them or otherwise, nudges should work pretty well. Besides, better behavior makes better character.

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