Communicating resourcefully: A natural field experiment on 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.

A large-scale natural field experiment was conducted, comprising 38,654 customers of Good Energy, in which Gosnell randomised environmental information and dissonance-inducing messaging to promote an active switch from paper to online billing.

The author finds that environmental information and imagery are ineffective in inducing behaviour change. Interestingly, the dissonance-inducing messaging weakly improved uptake by 1.2 percentage points among the main sample but backfired among a subsample of individuals with doctoral educations, decreasing uptake by 6.2 percentage points relative to a control group. Females in the sample were less likely to switch to paperless billing than males: this runs contrary to the findings of the majority of the literature on gender and environmental behaviour.

An earlier version of this paper was published in May 2017 under the title Be who you ought or be who you are? Environmental framing and cognitive dissonance in going paperless and is available from the author on request.