Findings from online experiment testing green energy plans enrollments

Note: analysis based on my Behavioral Orchestration and Analysis framework explained here.


Hedlin, Simon and Sunstein, Cass R., Does Active Choosing Promote Green Energy Use? Experimental Evidence (July 4, 2015).


Use an online experiment to find out how consumers’ choice when choosing between a green energy plan and a normal energy plan is influenced by

  • setting green or classical plan as a default
  • using active choosing
  • making the green plan cost more
  • stating explicitly at first that the green plan did not cost more

Changes implemented

Choice Architecture

Contextual persuasion and copy elements
  • The authors tested including or not explicitly the fact that cost would be identical between the Green and Conventional plans. Not including this statement and leaving the cost unspecified at first led some respondents to choose the Conventional plan instead of the Green one because the Green plan was assumed more expensive, a consequence of the Halo Effect for Green Energy, expected to be more expensive to generate.
Choice ergonomics and usability; user experience
  • They tested both defaulting choice of plan to a Green or Conventional plan or requiring active choosing without default. A great example of how Defaults as a tool should be used with caution as they may create Reactance.


Excerpted from their abstract:

  • First, forcing participants to make an active choice between a green energy provider and a standard energy provider led to higher enrollment in the green program than did either green energy defaults or standard energy defaults.
  • Second, active choosing caused participants to feel more guilty about not enrolling in the green energy program than did either green energy defaults or standard energy defaults; the level of guilt was positively related to the probability of enrolling.
  • Third, respondents were less likely to approve of the green energy default than of the standard energy default, but only when green energy cost extra, which suggests reactance towards green defaults when enrollment means additional private costs.
  • Fourth, respondents appeared to have inferred that green energy automatically would come at a higher cost and/or be of worse quality than less environmentally friendly energy.


First, a caution, as the study uses an experimental design involving participants recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT). I am always highly skeptical of the possible applicability of results using AMT participants to the real world.

That said, the study is great and highlights some of the issues that utilities and policy makers need to take into account. I wouldn’t rely on those results to design a new sign-up flow but would rather use them to justify testing how Green plans are presented and offered to consumers. These parameters should be tested, in addition to others.