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The Persistent Impacts of Norm-Based Messaging and Their Implications for Water Conservation

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  • María Bernedo

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  • Paul Ferraro

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  • Michael Price

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Abstract

Although an increasing number of studies have demonstrated the short-term impacts of behavioral nudges to achieve public policy objectives, less is known about their longer-term impacts. In a randomized experimental design with over 100,000 households, we study the longer-term impacts of a one-time behavioral nudge that aimed to induce voluntary reductions in water use during a drought. Combining technical information, moral suasion, and social comparisons, the nudge has a surprisingly persistent effect. Although its effect size declines by almost 50% after 1 year, it remains detectable and policy-relevant six years later. In fact, the total reduction in water use achieved after the 4-month period targeted by the intervention is larger than the total reduction achieved during the target period. Further analysis suggests that the intervention works through both short-lived behavioral adjustments and longer-lived adjustments to habits or physical capital. Treatment effects are not detectable in homes from which the treated consumers have moved, which provides suggestive evidence that these longer-lived adjustments are mobile rather than incorporated into the housing stock. The persistence of the effect makes the intervention more cost-effective than previously assumed (cost drops by almost 60%). Nevertheless, water utilities may find this persistence undesirable if the nudges are intended to have only a short-run effect on demand during environmental emergencies. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Suggested Citation

  • María Bernedo & Paul Ferraro & Michael Price, 2014. "The Persistent Impacts of Norm-Based Messaging and Their Implications for Water Conservation," Journal of Consumer Policy, Springer, vol. 37(3), pages 437-452, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jcopol:v:37:y:2014:i:3:p:437-452
    DOI: 10.1007/s10603-014-9266-0
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Degen, Kathrin & Fleisch, Elgar & Götte, Lorenz & Lalive, Rafael & Staake, Thorsten & Tasic, Vojkan & Tiefenbeck, Verena, 2016. "Overcoming Salience Bias: How Real-Time Feedback Fosters Resource Conservation," CEPR Discussion Papers 11480, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Asensio, Omar Isaac & Delmas, Magali A., 2016. "The dynamics of behavior change: Evidence from energy conservation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 126(PA), pages 196-212.
    3. Dalton, Patricio & Rüschenpöhler, Julius & Uras, Burak & Zia, Bilal, 2019. "Local Best Practices for Business Growth," Discussion Paper 2019-015, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    4. Jens Rommel & Sergio Villamayor-Tomas & Malte Müller & Christine Werthmann, 2015. "Game Participation and Preservation of the Commons: An Experimental Approach," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(8), pages 1-15, July.
    5. Alec Brandon & Paul J. Ferraro & John A. List & Robert D. Metcalfe & Michael K. Price & Florian Rundhammer, 2017. "Do The Effects of Social Nudges Persist? Theory and Evidence from 38 Natural Field Experiments," NBER Working Papers 23277, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Robert Hahn & Robert D. Metcalfe & David Novgorodsky & Michael K. Price, 2016. "The Behavioralist as Policy Designer: The Need to Test Multiple Treatments to Meet Multiple Targets," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2016-05, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    7. John A. List & Michael K. Price, 2016. "Editor's Choice The Use of Field Experiments in Environmental and Resource Economics," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 10(2), pages 206-225.
    8. Christa Brelsford & Joshua K. Abbott, 2018. "How Smart Are `Water Smart Landscapes'?," Papers 1803.04593, arXiv.org.
    9. repec:eee:jeeman:v:92:y:2018:i:c:p:222-243 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Verena Berger & Ulf Schrader, 2016. "Fostering Sustainable Nutrition Behavior through Gamification," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(1), pages 1-15, January.
    11. repec:eee:pubeco:v:172:y:2019:i:c:p:151-173 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Cristiano Codagnone & Giuseppe Alessandro Veltri & Francesco Bogliacino & Francisco Lupiáñez-Villanueva & George Gaskell & Andriy Ivchenko & Pietro Ortoleva & Francesco Mureddu, 2016. "Labels as nudges? An experimental study of car eco-labels," Economia Politica: Journal of Analytical and Institutional Economics, Springer;Fondazione Edison, vol. 33(3), pages 403-432, December.
    13. repec:eee:resene:v:55:y:2019:i:c:p:24-48 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. repec:bla:ecinqu:v:56:y:2018:i:3:p:1788-1808 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Janusch, Nicholas & Palm-Forster, Leah H. & Messer, Kent D. & Ferraro, Paul J., 2017. "Behavioral Insights for Agri-Environmental Program and Policy Design," 2018 Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA) Annual Meeting, January 5-7, 2018, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 266299, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    16. repec:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:1:p:67:d:62067 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. repec:eee:rensus:v:102:y:2019:i:c:p:205-214 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Datta,Saugato & Miranda Montero,Juan Jose & Zoratto,Laura De Castro & Calvo-Gonzalez,Oscar & Darlingm,Matthew & Lorenzana,Karina Josephine Orduna, 2015. "A behavioral approach to water conservation: evidence from Costa Rica," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7283, The World Bank.
    19. Daniel A. Brent & Joseph H. Cook & Skylar Olsen, 2015. "Social Comparisons, Household Water Use, and Participation in Utility Conservation Programs: Evidence from Three Randomized Trials," Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(4), pages 597-627.
    20. Boun My, Kene & Ouvrard, Benjamin, 2019. "Nudge and tax in an environmental public goods experiment: Does environmental sensitivity matter?," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 24-48.
    21. Thiyagarajah, Meena & Bi, Xiang & VanSickle, John. J, 2016. "Effectiveness of Recycling Policy of Florida," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, Boston, Massachusetts 236105, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    22. Jaime Torres, Mónica Marcela & Carlsson, Fredrik, 2016. "Social Norms and Information Diffusion in Water-saving Programs: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment in Colombia," Working Papers in Economics 652, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.

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