The Onset of Offsets: The Limits of Social Signaling in Eco-Friendliness

Last registered on December 06, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

The Onset of Offsets: The Limits of Social Signaling in Eco-Friendliness
Initial registration date
November 30, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
December 06, 2023, 8:25 AM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


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Primary Investigator

University of Chicago

Other Primary Investigator(s)

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Citizens in the USA spend a large amount of time, effort, and money engaging in voluntary actions to improve environmental quality. The motivation behind these actions is not clearly understood. They could be driven by private desire for improved environmental quality or by a social desire to signal eco-friendliness. To determine if these actions are driven by private or social considerations, we run an experiment that manipulates the publicity of carbon offset purchases, posting some consumers' names online and giving them share-able certificates that confirm their purchase. On average, pilot data shows that the public treatment does very little to increase uptake. However, the public treatment more than doubles uptake (14% to 31%) among those that have small second-order beliefs -- those that believe that everyone else thinks that carbon offsets are rare. This points to consumers receiving social utility from being first-movers on an eco-friendly action, though this social utility erodes quickly as consumers grow to believe that others will not see them as first-movers. This finding confirms the existence of an "honor region" as described in (Benabou and Tirole, 2011). We use this finding to discuss broader implications for tax and subsidy policy regarding policy on climate and other environmental externalities.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Pallottini, Ashton. 2023. "The Onset of Offsets: The Limits of Social Signaling in Eco-Friendliness." AEA RCT Registry. December 06.
Experimental Details


Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Uptake of an eco-friendly action (carbon offset purchases)
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
This is a survey experiment. Participants are recruited online and provide us with demographic information. We then inform them about carbon offsets, in case they are unfamiliar. From here, first- and second-order beliefs on market share of carbon offsets are elicited in an incentivized manner. We provide participants with high and low signals that shift second-order beliefs and serve as an instrument. Finally, we give participants the choice between receiving a bonus payment or buying an offset, where some participants are told their action will yield their name being posted online while others are not. Some participants are told that name-posting is mandatory and others are told it is voluntary, which tests for privacy concerns.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization occurs in the survey, so it is done via Qualtrics' algorithms.
Randomization Unit
Individual level randomization
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
4200 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
4200 individuals
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Treatments are public required/public voluntary/private, price variation ($1.50, $1.10, $0.75), offset tonnage variation (150 lbs., 190lbs., 225lbs.), and signal for second-order beliefs (low, medium, high). This yields 81 total treatment groups. The 4200 individuals will be roughly evenly divided across these 81 groups (~52 each)
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
The University of Chicago Social and Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number