Be who you ought or be who you are? Environmental framing and cognitive dissonance in going paperless


This paper explores the potential for environmental information and dissonance-inducing messaging to encourage resourceful behaviour, following a study of customers of a renewable energy provider in the UK.

It uses the manipulation of message framing to analyse behavioural motivators that businesses may consider when encouraging customers – in this case, those who already have revealed environmental preferences – to switch from paper to online communications.

In a large-scale natural field experiment comprising 38,654 customers of renewable supplier Good Energy, the author has randomised environmental information and messaging rooted in theories of cognitive dissonance in email communications promoting an active switch to paperless billing. The study finds that environmental information and imagery are ineffective in inducing behaviour change. Interestingly, the dissonance-inducing messaging weakly improves uptake among the main sample but backfires among a sub-sample of individuals with extensive postgraduate education. Contrary to the majority of the literature on gender and environmental behaviour, females in the sample are less likely to switch to paperless billing than males.