News Feature | March 27, 2014

Will ‘Shame Program' Convince Californians To Conserve?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

In a new effort to promote conservation, one water provider is getting inside its customers heads. 

The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) is trying a strategy called “behavioral water efficiency.” Colloquially, this method is known as a "shame program," according to Environmental Leader. Proponents say it is simply a way to stoke healthy competition. 

EBMUD, "which serves 1.3 million customers in the east San Francisco Bay Area, is expanding a pilot program that provides individual residential customers with water report cards, showing how their use compares with similar-sized households in the area," the Los Angeles Times reported

Each billing statement lists the amount of water a household used, how that number stacks up against comparable homes in the area, and a rating of  "great,” “good,” or “take action.” The statement also includes the image of a face smiling, looking neutral, or frowning. 

Delivered by mail or electronically, the statement provides "conservation recommendations tailored to the individual customer. The program was developed by WaterSmart Software, a four-year-old California company with offices in San Diego and San Francisco," the report said. 

“It’s just human nature to not want to be too different from everyone else,” said Mike Hazinski, the agency’s water conservation supervisor, said in the report “It turns out that’s very motivating for customers.”

The genius of this strategy, according to Salon, is that it’s simple. 

"No guilting people about conserving rare resources, no delving into the contentious debate over the role of climate change in the drought, no celebrity-studded PSAs," the report said. 

Research shows the approach is effective. 

"A study from an independent agency showed that when participants received information comparing their water consumption to neighborhood averages, usage decreased by 5 percent on average," Silicon Angle reported

For Susan Sudmann, a Sacramento resident, conservation took on a new importance recently.  That's because she learned that some of her neighbors were conserving more. 

Her family "used an average of 250 gallons per day – better than the 284-gallon average for similar houses in her Sacramento neighborhood, but worse than the 173 gallons for a water-efficient one," a Sacramento Bee commentary reported

Her competitive side coming out, she began "thinking of other ways to reduce use – like putting buckets in the shower to collect water as it warms up and using that on her plants," the commentary said. 


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