Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

The Key To Water Conservation Is To Pressure Those Who Already Save

People who could care less about saving water are probably not going to be convinced by your public awareness campaigns.

The Key To Water Conservation Is To Pressure Those Who Already Save

Photo: Aron Brand via Shutterstock

Convincing water wasters to mend their ways and suddenly stop sprinkling their lawns may be as impossible as it sounds. Far better, or at least far easier, is to put the squeeze on people who are already "water savvy" to save yet more water.

A new study from the University of Florida sets out to categorize different kinds of water consumers, arguing that designing effective public information campaigns to change people's behavior is difficult when you have no profile for your target audience.

One of the biggest residential water wasters is irrigation (i.e. watering your garden), and this makes it one of the best ways to save water in parched states like Florida. But getting people to use less water is tricky.

"Historically, practitioners have relied on information campaigns to encourage water conservation," write the authors, "yet results have been discouraging largely due to the minimal environmental behavior changes resulting from the information campaigns."

stephenkirsh via Shutterstock

The problem is that some people just don't see the need to save water. "Many people do not realize how much their landscape practices impact natural resources," study lead Laura Warne told the University of Florida website, "or they don’t feel they would personally benefit from conserving water."

That makes these people particularly hard targets when it comes to convincing them of the need to use less water for the benefit of everyone. They see conservation as a personal sacrifice, even though they may see personal benefits, like a reduced water bill.

The good news is that these selfish water hogs are in the minority. In a survey of 1,063 Floridians, carried out by Warne's team, "water-considerate users" make up 45% of respondents, "water-savvy conservationists" make up 36%, and the euphemistically named "unconcerned water users" total just 19%.

Water-savvy conservationists are already almost perfect when it comes to saving water, and the unconcerned are a lost cause. So the smart thing to do is to target the water-considerate. While they "show fairly positive attitudes about conserving water," they have "room for improvement in their irrigation," Warne said.

The key, then, is to work on these folks, moving them up the water conversation ladder. Future education campaigns can target this group. It might not be entirely fair—after all, the unconcerned are also likely to be the biggest wasters, and could make a big difference if reigned in—but it's certainly the most practical and efficient approach.

Perhaps the best part of the whole survey, though, is this description of the unconcerned water wasters: "This subgroup had significantly lower social norms, personal norms, [and] perceived behavioral control."

This won't help to save any water, but it will help you to feel smug and superior when you decide to spray your parched lawn green instead of wastefully sprinkling it back to life.

Have something to say about this article? You can email us and let us know. If it's interesting and thoughtful, we may publish your response.

The Fast Company Innovation Festival