20 Nov 2009

THIS is how you get people to use less water

Aquacue is working with AQUAholics Anonymous to get UCSD students in dorms to use less water.

The strategy has three prongs:
  1. Dormies can see their daily consumption. That's fast feedback. (That link will disappear at the end of the month, so look now!)
  2. Residents can compare their current consumption to their numbers from the day or year before (click on the name of a hall to see the graphics). That creates an incentive to improve personal (or in-group) performance.
  3. Residents can compare consumption to others in other halls, to see who is at the top of the league table. That comparison creates in-group vs out-group competition, which is very powerful.
Residents in the top three halls have cut their consumption by 35-40 percent against baseline -- to 22-37 gallons/capita/day. Students in the worst hall are using more but that's only using 60gcd -- still pretty good for indoor use.

And remember that these students are NOT facing financial incentives to use less water!

Shahram Javey at Aquacue is looking for financial and other types of support. If you like this, email him.

Bottom Line: People will use less water if they know how much they are using and how much relative to "normal" -- aka, their peers. (Oh, and it doesn't hurt to give financial reminders of high and low consumption :)


  1. Very interesting stuff. Here's a question:

    Has anybody studied the economic consequences/behavior of the "beat-down" syndrome? As a high school teacher, I was made brutally aware of students whose place in life was to be the 'dumb' one, the one who lost, came in last in a race, etc. They owned that place, because they knew it, it was comfortable in its consistency.

    Over time, if a hall becomes "known" for being the worst water users, will they own that and be proud of it?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks for posting this, David.

    There is a lot of action in this space. We're financing an effort to create real-time feedback on not just use, but impacts. It's similar, but bigger in scope, and smaller in time-step.

    By wiring the meters to the utility's SCADA systems and wire the SCADA systems to measure stream conditions and emission quality. All of this is in more-or-less real time.

    The big trick is to dial-in Josh's and similar concerns. There is not only "anchoring" where folks lock into a status, but even more of a strong "reversion to mean" tendency when groups are given this kind of feedback. Much of the work we're financing is getting the social psychology right.

    More will come soon, but for a first look: http://www.luciddesigngroup.com/communities.php

    (sorry if this is too much of a commercial.)

  4. @Josh -- good question, and I thought of the same. There are two responses: (1) the gradual reduction in average use (with competition) and (2) the need to reset/scramble ratings so that people can make a fresh start. (2) would be easy to do -- just run a one-week "sprint" from baseline zero every month or so...

    We don't want the Yankees and Cubs, we want world cup football...

  5. This is also interesting...



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