If you knew you were being monitored, would you change certain aspects of your behavior? You would, according to the Hawthorne effect, an idea that holds that people alter their behavior when they sense they are being observed. A recent study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University confirmed this theory when it measured the energy usage of a group of utility customers who had been notified that their energy usage would be monitored for one month as part of an experiment.
What the Study Demonstrated
The study had a basic premise: compare the energy-use habits of one group whose members had been notified of the experiment against a control group that was unaware of the study. Unsurprisingly, the study found that those who knew their energy usage was being monitored reduced their electricity consumption by an average of 2.7 percent. However, once the group thought the study had concluded, its member’s electricity usage increased to its former levels.
What This Means for Food Waste
I have experience working in energy efficiency before I joined LeanPath. And while the results of the CMU study are specific to energy usage, I believe the same is true for monitoring food waste. Through our work at LeanPath with colleges, hospitals and hotels across the country we’ve found time and again that simply by placing a tracking station in the kitchen, you immediately change behavior.
It doesn’t have to be a negative situation, where people feel like they are going to be reprimanded for waste. In fact, we advise quite the opposite: keep the program positive and fun, but make sure that everyone knows you are focused on reducing as much waste as possible and encourage everyone to be a part of the solution.
What This Means for Foodservice Operations
In the same way this study found that electricity usage increased to former levels after the study was complete, we also advise that monitoring food waste should be something foodservice operations do each and every day. Food waste audits are an important first step for understanding of the scope of the issue, but they only work if you act on the information you glean and continue to monitor progress on an ongoing basis.