Dynamic norms drive sustainable consumption: Norm-based nudging helps café customers to avoid disposable to-go-cups

David D. Loschelder, Henrik Siepelmeyer, Daniel Fischer, Julian A. Rubel

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    86 Scopus citations


    Excess use of disposable to-go-cups constitutes a severe sustainability threat. Behavioral economics and economic psychology suggest various antidotes. In the present paper, we report two studies – a large-scale intervention field study and an experiment – that constitute independent, pre-registered, and open replication attempts of a recently-introduced intervention procedure: dynamic social norms. We tested whether a dynamic norm, along the lines of “more and more customers are switching from to-go-cups to a sustainable alternative. Be part of this movement and choose a reusable mug” – can help café customers to avoid disposable to-go-cups. Data from a fourteen-week intervention experiment with a total of 23,946 hot beverages sold – 18,019 in disposable cups and 5927 in reusable mugs – suggest that a dynamic-norm intervention for sustainable consumption helps customers avoid disposable cups and increases their use of reusable alternatives by 17.3% (or 4.1 percentage points). A follow-up online experiment corroborates this pattern and shows advantageous effects of a dynamic norm relative to a no-norm control condition, a static norm, an injunctive norm, and a combination of static-and-injunctive norm. In light of inconsistent and, at times, failed or even reversed replication results for seminal social norms studies, the present pre-registered studies indicate that dynamic norms are an effective means to facilitate sustainable behavior. We discuss scientific and applied implications and avenues for future research.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number102146
    JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
    StatePublished - Dec 2019

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Applied Psychology
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Economics and Econometrics


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