Customers who are asked to sign up to paperless billing for renewable energy respond better to reinforcements of their own ‘green’ self-image than to imagery or written information about environmental impacts, according to a paper published today (22 May 2017) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The study, conducted by Dr Greer Gosnell, showed that when UK-based renewable energy provider Good Energy emailed 38,000 customers to ask them to switch to paperless billing, images of trees and information about the benefits for the environment had no impact in persuading them.

Instead, by reinforcing their sense of themselves as ‘environmental stewards’, customers were 10.7% more likely to be persuaded by the research team to make the swap compared with a control group.

Dr Gosnell, who is a behaviour change expert at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said: “Previous studies have shown that people don’t find environmental information campaigns very persuasive in changing behaviour in, for example, their energy consumption, but this is the first to convincingly show that people are influenced by messaging which reinforces the way they view themselves by effectively saying ‘We know that you are an environmentally conscious person, and here’s another way you can cut your environmental impact’. The customers responded in this way to avoid ‘cognitive dissonance’. In other words, they decided that continuing with paper bills would have been inconsistent with their reasons for choosing energy supplied by renewables.”

However, the study, which was designed by Dr Gosnell to find out which techniques maximise the uptake of e-billing, also revealed this ‘nudging’ technique unexpectedly backfired with customers addressed as ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor’ on their bills.

This smaller group of 1,844 Good Energy customers were 48.7% less likely to sign up to paperless billing in response to an email message appealing to their ‘green self-image’ than to a standard control email focusing on customer satisfaction.

Commenting on why the technique might have had the opposite effect with ‘Doctors’ and ‘Professors’, Dr Gosnell said: “At the moment there’s not a clear explanation and this is a question for further research. Good Energy customers might view themselves as ‘green stewards’ so the dissonance message we used tapped into those self-perceptions, increasing take-up on the margin. On the other hand, the Doctors and Professors might already have another strong sense of identity so that such dissonance is less ‘threatening’ to their self-perceptions, or they may be aware of, and therefore less susceptible to, this psychological phenomenon so that dissonance doesn’t make that connection with them.”

Juliet Davenport OBE, Chief Executive Officer of Good Energy, said: “We love understanding what makes our customers tick, so we really wanted to be involved in this study to learn more about communicating in a way that resonates with them. This research shows that appealing to customers’ sense of themselves as environmental stewards can motivate positive action. We have learned much through this collaboration with London School of Economics and Political Science, and have absorbed the research’s findings into the way we communicate with customers.”

Dr Gosnell said: “Our study suggests that green businesses should not rely on the use of information on environmental impacts to encourage environmental behaviours, and instead should appeal to their customers using more subtle tactics rooted in the psychology of cognitive dissonance, with careful attention to the audience who are receiving the messaging. Using careful randomised testing on sub-samples of customers can help to identify which messages resonate with customers.”

The study was carried out during a six-week campaign by Good Energy to persuade its customers to switch from paper to online bills. Paperless billing can cut costs in printing and posting and reduce the environmental impact of organisations.

The results of the study are published today as a working paper, ahead of submission to an academic journal for publication.

For more information about this media release please contact Bob Ward on +44 (0) 7811 320346 or



  1. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment ( was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment (
  2. Good Energy is a fast-growing green energy company, generating and selling 100% renewable electricity and green gas to homes and businesses across the UK. Good Energy is consistently highly rated for customer service by ‘Which?’ and ‘MoneySavingExpert’ users. More information as



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