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Public Understanding of Sustainable Water Use in the Home (2009)

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This report commissioned by Defra explores the public’s aspirations, assumptions and expectations around sustainable water use in the home. 18 focus groups and 70 follow-up semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted. The study highlights customer’s limited awareness of water scarcity and the environmental implications of water usage. While there is some awareness of basic water efficient behaviours, participants reported few motivations to save water – particularly for those without water meters. Campaigns are recommended to not only raise awareness of water efficiency, but inform people about the reasons why it matters (e.g. environmental impacts) and how their individual contribution can make an impact at large.

Executive SummaryBackground

  1. 1.1  The UK is becomingly increasingly water stressed, with many areas already at their maximum abstraction levels. In addition, water treatment, supply and heating all carry a high energy burden. UK households use the bulk of water supplied in the UK, so their actions can make a significant difference to the sustainability of future water supplies.
  2. 1.2  In December 2008, Synovate was commissioned by Defra1 to conductresearch to explore the public‟s aspirations, assumptions and expectationsaround sustainable water use in the home. The research was designed to build on previous work in this area, most notably the Consumer Council forWaters research „Using Water Wisely‟, which was undertaken in 2006following a period of drought in the UK.Objectives
  3. 1.3  The specific research objectives were to explore:
    • Aspirations around water consumption and water using products
    • Assumptions about what is „normal‟ and what is „good‟ – in particular perceptions around unlimited vs. efficient use
    • Understanding of sustainable water use in the home – both water use in general and hot water/ energy use in particular, as well as people‟sunderstanding of and responses to Defra‟s specific behaviour changegoals on water
    • Willingness and ability to act – what could they do; what would they need to do to enable, engage, encourage and exemplify behaviour change; and what role others (government, water companies, other public bodies) can play.
  1. The research was designed to provide evidence to inform future policy development to encourage more sustainable water consumption. The research complements previous research commissioned by Defra to explore public understanding in relation to a number of environmental issues (energy consumption in the home, food, transport, clothing, etc).Approach and Sample
  2. 1.5  The research utilised a qualitative methodology. 18 focus groups, each lasting two hours, were conducted between 12th January and 22nd January 2009.The groups were recruited to Defra‟s segmentation model as outlined in Defra‟s Framework for Pro-Environmental Behaviour. The model identifies seven population segments clustered by people‟s values, beliefs and attitudes towards the environment2. The groups were split according to metering status. Nine participants were recruited to ensure eight attended each group.
  3. 1.6  The groups were preceded by two written pre tasks; a two day room diary for bathrooms and kitchen/utility rooms and a washing machine and dishwasher purchase questionnaire. Care was taken to mask the topic of the research to ensure that participants talked honestly about water use and to minimise the risk of participants potentially over-claiming their water efficient attitudes or behaviour.
  4. 1.7  Approximately two weeks after the groups were completed we conducted a series of semi structured telephone interviews with 70 of the focus group participants. These were designed to capture any further thoughts or changes in perception and / or behaviour once participants had the opportunity to digest the information received during the group discussions.Current Understanding of the Water Supply System
  5. 1.8  Overall, there is limited awareness of water scarcity and the environmental implications of water usage. People in water stressed areas worry about hose pipe bans during periods of hot weather, but there are few concerns beyond this. There is also low awareness of the wider environmental issues, such as energy used in treating, supplying and heating water.
  1. 1.9  Participants currently report few motivations to save water – particularly for those without water meters. As a result of this low awareness and lack of motivations, water efficiency is seldom a consideration during water use. Even where people do have some awareness that a behaviour is wasteful –e.g. running the tap whilst cleaning their teeth or washing up – they have little conception of the impact of such wastefulness, so therefore do not see water efficiency as a serious issue.
  2. 1.10  Most participants are unaware of the severity of the water scarcity issues within the UK and few have considered the environmental implications of supplying water to the population.
  3. 1.11  There is some awareness of basic water efficient behaviours, such as turning off taps or choosing to have a shower instead of a bath. However the motivations to adopt by these behaviours were more likely to be, for example, lifestyle fit. As few understand the environmental reasons why it is important to be water efficient, there is little guilt about only adopting these behaviours to a limited extent, if at all. Water usage is based on ingrained habits, beliefs that water is plentiful and a right, as well as a lack of conscious awareness and knowledge about the issue.
  4. 1.12  Region and metering status were seen to influence behaviour. People in more water stressed areas tended to be slightly more aware of water scarcity issues – but awareness is still not high. Metering was thought to have increased water efficient behaviour to some extent, but many feel that the cost of water is not high enough to merit stringent water economies.Water Using Behaviours
  5. 1.13  Overall, people pay little attention to efficiency when using water – even wherethey are aware of water efficiencies they could practice, they often don‟t. Aspeople have limited knowledge of the environmental concerns around water usage, for many the environment is not a key factor impacting on their water using behaviour. There is a degree of consistency in terms of water savingbehaviours across the sample, although perceived „normal‟ behaviourencompass a very wide range of practices.