Changing consumer behavior often requires drastic measures. Chapter 8 of the Carbon Efficient City refers to the western consumer as being unaware of the consequences of their excessive consumption of finite resources. Increasing the price of water to reflect its true cost and providing disincentives to high water usage are being suggested as ways to change consumer behavior. Indeed I believe that increasing the cost of the resource will have a positive impact on water consumption. However, I also believe that a fundamental shift in the way consumers view precious resources is necessary to sustain a long term change in behavior.
Establishing a sense of scarcity towards finite resources like water will help reshape the public’s attitude towards water consumption. Using advertising campaigns and social media to make water saving a socially preferred behavior will transform young consumers’ patterns of use. By instilling awareness among the public of the problems caused by our excessive consumption, consumers are forced to take responsibility and monitor their own behavior. Reducing household water consumption will both help conserve our resources as well as put less pressure on the infrastructure.
Up until a couple of years ago the State of Victoria, Australia was going through a severe drought. The State Government implemented a series of water usage restrictions of varying severity to conserve water usage. A large awareness campaign entitled “Every Drop Counts” was launched to educate the public about the importance of water conservation. The campaign was carried across TV ads, billboards and social media, outlining simple water saving strategies around the house. The campaign particularly emphasized adopting the “four minute shower” as the norm. Small free shower timers were mailed out to households together with information brochures. The campaign was quite successful within a short period with significant decrease in average household water consumption. The hourglass shower timer became a household item and the “four minute shower” mentality stuck.
In the last two years the water restrictions in most parts of Victoria have been eased up. However, the Victorians attitude towards water conservation which was promoted during the draught remains to date. In our household the “four minute shower” still applies even in rainy Washington. Although Washington may not be experiencing a draught, educating the public to conserve resources will help make it a social expectation. By doing so, together with an adjustment to the price of resources, long term change in resource consumption can be achieved.