Utility customers in Switzerland have been helping the climate by doing nothing at all.

Over the past decade, many Swiss utilities have started automatically providing customers with renewable electricity. So clean energy is now the default source, and consumers have to opt out if they don’t want it. 

A recent study shows that this switch greatly increases participation in clean energy programs.

“We found a massive effect,” says Ulf Liebe, a researcher at the University of Warwick in the U.K.

His team studied over 200,000 Swiss households and businesses.

He says before their utility made the switch, less than 3% of customers opted in to use renewable electricity. Shortly afterward, however, that number skyrocketed to over 80%, even though renewable energy was more expensive.

And four years after the switch, most of the customers were still going green.

Liebe says this finding is not surprising given human nature:

“We have a tendency to stick to the status quo,” he says. “If someone is defining something as a standard, then we are quite willing to accept it.”

Liebe says utilities in other countries could also switch the default energy customers receive to help speed the transition to clean energy.

Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChaveBart Digital Media