‘If the lights are left on in the bathroom you know a Norwegian was the last person to use it’

I was having a conversation with a few colleagues of mine some months back about how the lights are ALWAYS left on in the toilets at work when unoccupied. I had been turning them off most of the time but invariably they’d be on again next time, even at the end of the day or on weekends.

The observation was made in winter time when there is very little daylight and everyone’s craving light. But the men’s bathroom on my floor had no windows so this wasn’t a good excuse.

In any case I decided to perform a little experiment to see if I could extend upon last year’s success with the sensor-operated urinal. In Australia I believe that a significant percentage of people turn off the lights in a room if they are the last one to leave it. It’s certainly not everyone though, so I had seen some stickers placed near the light switch which attempt to encourage this behaviour.

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So up went about 10 or so of these stickers next to the two light switches in each of the men’s bathrooms that are a part of my faculty. I thought about putting the same sticker up in the women’s bathrooms but decided against it.

As an initiative that aims to establish a behavioural change I had taken some data prior to the sticker action. My method was to check the light situation when I walked past twice a day, and switch off the lights if unoccupied. Since there were around 10 men on the floor this should have been enough to register the light-switching behaviour of others. In 10 days of registration and nearly 20 bathroom visits, there were only 2 occasions when the bathroom lights on my level were both turned off when I went to use them (I hadn’t yet mentioned my plans to people).

Up went the stickers and the post-initiative registrations could begin! I was optimistic that there might be some sort of change.

My case was good. This was a toilet which had no windows and thus was not affected by the outside light conditions (quite important in Norway). The people on the floor were of course not told about the experiment’s start or meaning (although that should have been clear given they can all read).

BUT… the 10 days post-sticker registration revealed exactly the same results! On only 2 occasions were the lights turned off in the 20 checks. Now just a month ago the cleaners have taken away all of my stickers as if they also know that I’m fighting a lost battle.

My swedish colleague said that you can always know if the last person to use the bathroom was Norwegian or not based on whether the lights are left on. In Sweden her experience says that the lights tend to be turned off in empty rooms. Norway is a wealthy energy exporting nation with a long history of cheap hydropower and there appears to be a lack of concern for energy wastage. The electricity consumption isn’t however as renewable as the average Norwegian believes due to an EEA arrangement selling renewable energy certificates to other member states.

I may have to finally read the book Nudge I received as a gift 3 or 4 years ago on behavioural change. My water saving win won’t immediately translate into an energy saving behaviour change it seems.

 

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