Introduction for Water Resource and Conservation Professionals

Tools of Change provides water resource and conservation professionals with a very accessible set of resources for fostering healthier, safer and more sustainable choices and behaviours. Once you have registered for a free account, this website can remember your water interest and provide you with related examples as you use its Planning Guide and Tools of Change sections. The site currently has about 15 full-length water conservation case studies with measured impacts, illustrating the planning methods and social marketing tools described. You can browse brief descriptions of these on the Water Resources page, and also of additional on-line resources for water professionals.

We will continue building the water topic areas on this website to host additional materials on a variety of water-related behaviour change topics such as current trends, consumer research and stories in the news. We will also be expanding the content to include more materials related to water quality, water resource stewardship.

This introduction begins by reviewing the challenges we face in engaging individuals to take action and, at a broader level, in achieving water conservation. It concludes with a site guide tailored to your interests.

Water Conservation and the Challenge of Behaviour Change

It is the one thing that all people, plants and animals need. Water is the common bond that brings together the world's diverse populations. As our world population grows, properly managing water resources continues to be critical to our overall quality of life. Because water is such a necessary part of our lives, ensuring an adequate supply must be a priority.

Around the world, professionals are exploring a variety of alternative water supplies such as  desalination, aquifer storage and recovery, surface water high-flow capture, reclaimed water and stormwater research and treatment. At the same time, they are implementing water saving technologies such as lower flow shower heads, low flow toilets and water efficient irrigation systems. However, the reality is that we also need to focus on changing individual water conservation behaviours involved in gardening, farming, using our washrooms, washing our clothes and dishes, and so on.

Applying Social Marketing to Water Conservation

Social marketing principles tell us that to change individual water conservation decisions, we must first ensure that easy alternative choices exist, that individuals are aware of them, and that they want to use them. But, based on these circumstances alone, the people who change their habits would be greatly outnumbered by those who do not due to barriers that transcend individual understanding and intention, and that prevent them from taking or sustaining action. Some barriers are shared by certain groups of people, while others are as individual as fingerprints. Social marketing methods allow us to investigate what influences people's actions, identify the barriers to these actions, classify individuals according to the barriers they face, select and test measures to remove the barriers, and finally implement and monitor solutions on a wider scale.

Residential water conservation involves a range of behaviours related to lawn and garden watering and maintenance, rainwater harvesting (e.g. rainbarrels and the disconnection of downspouts), naturescaping, installing low-flow facucet aerators and shower heads, and purchasing high efficiency appliances (e.g. toilets and clothes washers). The first step in planning a community-based social marketing program is to select the behaviour(s) on which to focus, taking into account the number of people who would likely adopt each behaviour and the amount of water saved by each.    

Example for Residential Lawn Watering

  • Residential Lawn Watering. Traditional public education attempts to reduce the amount of water used on lawns have too often been less successful than desired, leading many jurisdictions to pass by-laws enforcing water conservation lawn-watering measures during droughts. In contrast, social marketing programs have been successful not only in improving compliance with these by-laws, but also in reducing lawn watering in jurisdictions without by-laws in place. 

    This approach requires understanding and overcoming barriers - for example recognizing when residents find it difficult to calculate how much rain has fallen and how much additional watering is required - and then providing simple, inexpensive tools to help them do this. As another example, it often means acknowledging and then overcoming the widespread misconception that more watering means healthier lawns.

    In many places, social marketing programs have also involved the use of commitment strategies, norm appeals, prompts, and/or home visits. Many jurisdictions have at the same time worked on behaviours related to lawn mower height and choice of ground cover.

Site Guide

Use the navigation bar at the top of the screen to explore the various sections of this site. The following are some highlights for water resource and conservation professionals.

The Planning Guide:

  • provides step-by-step instructions for planning and tracking your programs, with plenty of examples that can be set to specifically match your areas of interest,
  • enables you to create and print out a skeleton communication plan, which can be developed over a number of Internet sessions if desired and then taken into your word processor for further editing and printing,
  • places a strong emphasis on social marketing and community-based social marketing in particular, and
  • stresses research-based decision-making (see the Planning Guide sections: Getting Informed and Measuring Achievements).

The Tools of Change section:

  • provides step-by-step instructions for making use of specific Tools of Change, with plenty of examples that can be set to specifically match your areas of interest,
  • can help you make strategic decisions regarding marketing's traditional four P's (see This Site and Marketing - the Four P's), and
  • can help you make your marketing "exchanges" more attractive by increasing the perceived benefits and decreasing the perceived costs (see This Site and Exchange Theory).

The Case Studies section:

  • brings the first two sections to life, with success stories illustrating how the planning approach and the use of multiple tools led to success,
  • has 15 water-related case studies with measured impacts, and
  • can be searched by topic area, location, key words, and other factors.

The Water Resources page:

  • provides brief descriptions of water-related case studies on this site,
  • feature annnotated links to additional on-line resources for water resource and conservation professionals, and
  • can be searched by location, key words, and other factors.