Water managers, companies and policy makers have long been concerned with how to balance water supply with water demand
The authors of the paper on which this case study is based are: Meryl Pearce, Eileen Willis, Loreen Mamerow, Bradley Jorgensen and John Martin, Flinders University and La Trobe University, Australia
Appeared in: The Geographical Journal: Volume 180, Issue 2
Reference: Pearce, M. Willis, E. Mamerow, M. Jorgensen, B. and Martin, J. (2014) The prestige of sustainable living: implications for water use in Australia, The Geographical Journal, 180:2, p161-174
Water managers, companies and policy makers have long been concerned with how to balance water supply with water demand. In many areas, growing water household consumption and demand - due in part to changes in attitudes to water (such as its constant supply being perceived as a basic right) and greater uptake of water intensive technologies and leisure activities – has increased pressure on water supplies that may already be stressed (Boland and Bauman, 2004). Countries that regularly experience droughts, including Australia, have increasingly focused on demand management, this involves encouraging take up of more sustainable consumption practices.
There is a lot of debate about the drivers of water demand, and the most appropriate ways to achieve more sustainable consumption practices. Strategies tend to fall into two approaches: those that are market-driven (making water directly or indirectly a consumerable through pricing that is open to market forces) and non-market driven (placing overarching restrictions on demand with no direct economic incentives or disincentives). For example, non-market approaches might involve technological solutions, such as eco-settings on washing machines, leak detection and repair, as well as education and media campaigns. Market-driven approaches include charging users by their levels of consumption, such as through the installation of water meters. Market-driven approaches have been criticised by some players because they challenge the idea of water as a basic right (some people might not be able to afford to access sufficient amounts of water if it is priced too highly) and, as a result, non-market approaches are often favoured in demand management (Olmstead and Stavins, 2008). Researchers have also questioned the extent to which market-driven approaches influence the way that people actually use water, particularly among the most affluent sections of the population. Move evidence and data is needed in order to measure the effectiveness of demand management interventions, better understand the drivers of water consumption and inform policy decisions.
In this paper, three regions in and around Adelaide in South Australia were examined during an extended drought period. The study compared survey respondents’ self-proclaimed water conservation behaviours with their actual water use, using data from the households’ water meters. The study found that:
There is a relationship between number of occupants and household water consumption: smaller households (single or two people households) used more water per person than larger households. This supports Barret and Wallace (2009) as well as other researchers’ earlier findings.
Location and income are strong predictors of high water consumption at the household level: high water use is linked to the presence of water intensive amenities such as evaporative coolers, swimming pools, spas and garden-watering technologies.
People were able to accurately estimate the amount of water they used, and how that compares to other households.
There is a link between high water use and ‘excess gardening’: keen gardeners were more likely to be high water users. The authors argue that gardens are important symbols of social status and prestige, and that higher income earners did not always consider cost when designing their garden, or how much water it would need to be maintained.
High water users were more likely to break drought water restrictions: during drought, Australians are restricted to watering their gardens just once a week from a fresh mains domestic water supply. While eighty five percent of respondents in the survey complied with these restrictions, those in the high user category were far more likely to ignore these restrictions than those who used less water.
The degree to which water conservation practices were second nature to water users also predicted high water use, with high water users being far less likely to say that water conservation came automatically to them. This shows that high water users were very much aware of this status, yet despite this knowledge did not alter their behaviours in order to use less water.
These findings have important implications for water managers and policy makes who are trying to encourage more sustainable water consumption practices through demand management interventions. In order to reduce water demand, one might be forgiven for thinking that targeting high water users should be a straightforward starting point as these households are where the most significant water savings can be made (Campbell et al, 2004). However, this study shows that this group may be one of the most challenging in which to change water using behaviour. Despite being aware of drought conditions and being conscious of their own high levels of water use, high water users did not change their behaviour and use less water. As a result, the authors of this paper argue that demand management strategies such as increasing the price of water and conservation awareness campaigns might not be successful because this group of high water users placed a high value on maintaining a healthy, luxurious garden (which requires lots of water) and high income households were able to meet the costs of their high water use.
This paper argues that the most successful demand management interventions are likely to be those that do not lead to any loss in social welfare or status; importantly, interventions should conflict with peoples’ lifestyle desires. The authors suggest that greater technical solutions (water saving technologies) could be built into housing policy and that campaigns should personalise the impacts of water conservation behaviour (Gilg and Barr, 2006), but they argue that it is also important to offer positive, sustainable consumption alternatives that appeal to prestige. This could be achieved by policy makers acknowledging the growing prestige that is associated with sustainable living and marketing opulent, but drought resistant, native plants that require less water. The authors argue that this sort of demand management campaign – marketing attractive yet sustainable gardening styles to high water users - is more likely to be successful because it does not conflict with the high water users’ lifestyle or the prestige and value they place on their garden.
Barrett, G. and Wallace, M. (2009) Characteristics of Australian urban residential water users: implications for water demand management and whole of the system water accounting framework, Water Policy 11, p413-426
Boland, J. J. and Baumann, D. (2009) Water resources planning: past, present and future in Russell, C. and Baumann, D. (eds) The evolution of water resource planning and decision making, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham p1–14
Campbell, H. E. Johnson, R. M. and Larson, H. E. (2004) Prices, devices, people, or rules: the relative effectiveness of policy instruments in water conservation, Review Policy Research, 21, p637–662
Gilg, A. and Barr, S. (2006) Behavioral attitudes towards water saving? Evidence from a study of environmental actions, Ecological Economics 57, p400–414
Olmstead, S. and Stavins, O. (2008) Comparing price and non-price approaches to urban water conservation, Fomdazione Eni Enrico Matter 225
The act of preserving, protecting and managing biodiversity or a resource.
Relating to the study of population structures.
The demand for a resource which comes from the locality in which it is naturally found.
The supply of a resource into the same locality where it is naturally found.
A period of time over which an area of land experiences a much reduced water supply.
As a class, students can make a list of simple water conservation techniques that they could undertake in the home. Then individually students can ‘traffic light’ the list into measures they would definitely do, those they might do and those they would definitely not do. The results can be discussed and students can see where the threshold of the class lies.
Making a similar list to the task above, students can then suggest under what circumstances they would actually undertake all the measures on the list. Students can explore the idea that often resource conservation behaviour patterns tend to be as a reaction to resource depletion rather than an act to avoid it.
With half the class on each side of the debate, students can argue that either a market driven or non-market driven approach to resource management is more effective. Each side should also suggest ways in which the opposing viewpoint in ineffective in conserving resources.
Meryl Pearce (et al)’s original article
Importing Goods, Exporting Drought?
The Water Challenge
UK Water and Climate Risks
Water Shortages in the Maldives
By placing a booking, you are permitting us to store and use your (and any other attendees) details in order to fulfil the booking.
We will not use your details for marketing purposes without your explicit consent.
You must be a member holding a valid Society membership to view the content you are trying to access. Please login to continue.
Join us today, Society membership is open to anyone with a passion for geography
Cookies on the RGS website