Julie de Vaan
Saving water? An effective intervention takes behaviour into account.
In the proces of developing sustainable innovations and ideas, their effectiveness often comes down to behaviour. For example, people must be willing and able to use the new, more sustainable products (in the right way). Do you want to encourage people to make more sustainable choices? Then you have to take into account the way their choices are made at the earliest possible stage of development. Only then you know how to steer choices, and you can avoid investing a lot of time, money and energy in ideas that ultimately only have little effect.
An example is the design of a tap that is intended to encourage people to save water with a water-saving mode. A good idea, but how do you ensure that people actually use this mode?
Don't: emphasize sustainability
When encouraging sustainable behaviour, such as saving water, it often seems the most logical to emphasize sustainability. After all, we (as "those who want to stimulate sustainable behaviour") consider sustainability very important. In addition, the sustainable nature of the water-saving mode is what the product is all about, right? That is why the water-saving mode on the tap is often indicated with some kind of sustainability label, such as the word 'eco'.
But what exactly does such a label do? And what is its effect? A label mainly provides clarity about what is and what is not sustainable, and thus mainly focuses on self-efficacy and self-control. This helps people who have a positive attitude towards sustainability and who are motivated to make sustainable choices. The label gives them just what they need: clarity about what they have to do to actually make the most sustainable choice.
Unfortunately, labels like this often have little influence on people who are not (yet) involved in sustainability. Certainly not if there are other factors that play a much greater role in the choices they make. For example, convenience, functionality and enjoyment are much more important to many people than sustainability while taking a shower.
It also appears that, especially for products where sustainability is offered as a (built-in) option, the implicit labeling of sustainability is more effective in guiding consumer choices.
In addition, the eco-label can also have an undesirable effect. By emphasizing the sustainable nature of the water-saving mode, you might increase the chance of compensatory behaviour. Something that often occurs in sustainable behaviour. People who normally make a lot of sustainable choices may now think that they are allowed to make some less sustainable choices. That happens much less often if you don't emphasize that the water-saving mode is sustainable, but make it the standard mode.
Do: increase convenience and make saving-water the standard
Therefore, make the water-saving mode the default, by making it the easiest and most logical option. This is possible, for example, with a button that you have to press to open the tap further than the water-saving mode.
Many people are not so concerned with sustainability (especially while showering)
to prevent compensatory behaviour
...this option is more effective in encouraging people to save water. It responds to factors that have a greater influence on behaviour in this situation, such as convenience and norm. By default, people will now turn on the tap to the water-saving position. Simply because this seems the most normal and the easiest. Only if people are really motivated to turn on the tap further for some reason, will they take the trouble to push the button and start using more water.
So... if you want to encourage people to make more sustainable choices, you have to take into account the situation and the way in which choices are made in that situation. This way, you can make much more impact with well-thought-out and well-substantiated ideas, designs or actions.
For example, when stimulating people to save water with a water-saving mode on the tap. The logical option may seem to emphasize the sustainability of this mode. But by not talking about sustainability, but making the water-saving mode normal and the easiest, in this case you encourage more people to save water.