Water Use, Behavior and Policy Working Group

The Center’s Water Use, Behavior, and Policy Research Group (WBP) is focused on the role of strategic messaging in promoting public water conservation. The ongoing drought in California emphasizes the importance of water conservation in ensuring sustainable communities. 
Citizens, politicians, and water managers alike have pushed for ways to maximize water conservation. Although household consumption has gone down, it is likely consumption will fluctuate and even increase over time. Existing district messaging strategies overwhelming focus on providing consumers with information, yet researchers (and marketers) have long known that simply providing people with information is not enough to lead to behavior change. 
Altering messages in simple ways that connect to people's deeply held beliefs and identities can reduce water consumption by upwards of five percent.  Through partnerships with California water districts, we hope to increase public water conservation efforts.
Relying on a close collaboration with water managers, this research will:
  1. utilize known messaging interventions from the field of psychology and test their effectiveness in promoting water conservation; 
  2. determine the specific messaging that effectively reduces household water consumption across subpopulations; and 
  3. produce messaging approaches that can be tailored to other districts.
This long-term collaboration will evaluate the effectiveness of a number of different strategic messages. Our first field experiment utilizes messaging that appeals to moral foundations. The use of moral language is a particular form of messaging that effectively alters behaviors both in the lab and the field by people's deeply held beliefs. Our research design consists of administering different moral messages to water users in a series of mailings and assessing their impact on water use. For example, existing messaging that offers water saving tips will be augmented by "We still need to protect our water and keep it pure” and other language that connects to people's moral understanding of caring for the earth and the appeal of purity. Compared to information only messaging, we expect that messages framed in terms of moral considerations will lead to a significant reduction in water use across subpopulations. 
Sarah Anderson, Bren School, UCSB
Cameron Brick, Psychology, Hamilton College
Phil Ehret, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UCSB
Heather Hodges, Political Science, Reed College
Colin Kuehl, Political Science, UCSB
Eric RAN Smith, Political Science, UCSB
Leah Stokes, Political Science, UCSB