You know this message at the bottom of people’s email signoffs?

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It’s been doing the rounds for years now, and although I don’t have the stats to back this up, I bet it’s done nothing at all. In fact, by reminding people that printing the email is an option, it’s probably done more damage than good.

If you want to change people’s behaviour, you need to do a lot more than just suggesting they stop doing something. And we know from this hotel towel study that appealing to people’s green side doesn’t particularly work.

What does work is nudging people.

Behavioural scientists talk about the importance of ‘friction’ in stopping people doing things. If I want to print in our WeWork building, the friction is through the roof.

I have to log in using a seven-digit username and randomly-assigned password, send the job to the printer, walk over to the machine itself, wake it up, tap the ‘log in’ button, type in the exact same username and password again (which, of course, means making sure I’ve brought along my aide memoire Post-It note), press a button, wait (for a loooong time), pick up the print-outs, remember to log out of the printer, and go back to my desk.

And that’s just the physical friction. There are plenty of mental barriers too.

There’s a limit on the number of pages we can print each month, which forces us to a) consider not printing at all and b) make sure we’re cramming as many words onto as few pages as possible. And there’s a dashboard that tells us how many trees have been chopped down to satisfy our need for spreadsheets and contracts. So far we’ve unceremoniously dispatched an entire sapling.

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This all sounds like godawful customer experience.

But in truth, it’s a secret plan to save the world. PaperCut, the software company behind the printers in our office, say they’ve saved ‘trillions of pages’ by ‘changing a user’s printing behaviour’.

It’s worked on me, and I suspect I’m not the only one. A brilliant example of nudging people in the right direction without them even noticing what’s happening.