Can Social Comparisons and Moral Appeals Induce a Modal Shift Towards Low-Emission Transport Modes?

CRC TR 224 - Discussion Paper No. 451

53 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2023

See all articles by Johannes Gessner

Johannes Gessner

University of Mannheim - Graduate School of Economic and Social Sciences

Wolfgang Habla

DHBW Villingen-Schwenningen

Ulrich J. Wagner

University of Mannheim - Department of Economics

Date Written: October 12, 2023

Abstract

To reduce CO2 emissions, some companies have introduced mobility budgets that employees can spend on leisure and commuting trips, as an alternative to subsidized company cars. Given their novelty, little is known about how mobility budgets should be designed to encourage sustainable transportation choices. Since prices play a limited role in this subsidized setting, our study focuses on behavioral interventions. In a field experiment with 341 employees of a large German company, we test whether social comparisons, either in isolation or in combination with a climate-related moral appeal, can change the use of different means of transportation. We find strong evidence for a reduction in car-related mobility in response to the combined treatment, which is driven by changes in taxi and ride-sharing services. This is accompanied by substitution towards micromobility, i.e., transport modes such as shared e-scooters or bikes, but not towards public transport. We do not find robust evidence for effects of the social comparison alone. Furthermore, survey evidence suggests that effects may be driven by a climate-aware minority and that participants indeed felt a moral obligation to comply with the social norm. Our results demonstrate that small, norm-based nudges can change transportation behavior, albeit for a limited time.

Keywords: mobility behavior, randomized experiment, nudging, descriptive norm, injunctive norm, social norms, moral appeal, habit formation

JEL Classification: C93, D04, D91, L91

Suggested Citation

Gessner, Johannes and Habla, Wolfgang and Wagner, Ulrich J., Can Social Comparisons and Moral Appeals Induce a Modal Shift Towards Low-Emission Transport Modes? (October 12, 2023). CRC TR 224 - Discussion Paper No. 451, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4620353 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4620353

Johannes Gessner

University of Mannheim - Graduate School of Economic and Social Sciences

Wolfgang Habla

DHBW Villingen-Schwenningen ( email )

Friedrich-Ebert-Straße 30
Villingen-Schwenningen, 78054
Germany

Ulrich J. Wagner (Contact Author)

University of Mannheim - Department of Economics ( email )

D-68131 Mannheim
Germany

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