The Power of Defaults in How We Eat

March 15, 2010 BY danariely

A few months ago I attended a conference held by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. One of the interesting things they noted this year was about their lunch offering.

You might be surprised to know that meat production, between raising, processing, packaging, and preserving meat uses a lot of energy. In fact, Michael Pollan, author of The Omivore’s Dilemma once asserted that “A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius” (it turns out that this was a bit of an exaggeration).

If you’ll note in the picture below, it seems that in this meeting (2009) the council was able to convince attendees to switch to a vegetarian lunch.

The trick, as I’ve blogged about before, was making the vegetarian option the default option! For the past two years, the council did not have any default and the vast majority of the attendants picked the meat option. This year they set up the vegetarian option as the default, and this yielded a more environmentally friendly results, with a mere 20 percent insisting on having their steaks (see the column for 2009).

The other good news is that the vegetarian option was also (in this case) more tasty and healthy.