Connected tech nudges water saving behaviour

Over the years, there have been many campaigns to try and get us to change our behaviours around water consumption (for example, thirty seconds with Google throws up this effort from SoCal, a great post from the Fun Easy Popular blog highlighting just two approaches, and Gabi the Camel too).

While awareness and action programmes are great, they often rely on motivating behaviour and triggering action from memory recall.

Which makes me think of an old adage – Show Don’t Tell – and how it applies here through one clever little product…

If you’re anything like me, your morning shower serves four purposes:

  1. Cleanliness – self evident (I hope)
  2. Wakefulness – getting the mind and body ready for the day
  3. Pain relief – soothing water running over the head and body can work wonders for aching joints/muscles
  4. Thinking time – there’s some truth in the idea that many people have their best ideas in the shower.

What you’re probably not thinking of (unprompted at least) is exactly how much water you’re using.  If you’ve been involved in a water conservation messaging programme, you might have a rough idea of how much you’ve used but will you know precisely how much (through your water bill or otherwise)?

If you want to cut down how much water you use, the obvious first step is to cut down the time in the shower.  You could put a clock in the bathroom (and watch it – so long as you’re not short sighted and don’t shower with your glasses on).  Alternatively, you could use a radio and only shower for a song’s length (Song 2 by Blur may present some challenges if you’ve got to wash your hair as well).  Or you could set some kind of alarm to klaxon you out of the jets after a set period of time.

To my mind, this type of monitoring isn’t what a shower should be about.  The first two require some kind of active looking/monitoring (rather than gentle waking up) and the third is just unpleasant if you’re in an interesting reverie at that moment.

One solution I’ve come across and really like is the HYDRAO showerhead which changes colour after set volumes of water have passed through it.  Far less intrusive than an alarm and far more appealing than using half of your brain to peer at a clock/listen to a radio,  I think that this is a really smart solution to the water monitoring question.

hydrao_first_3It also taps neatly into three of the four parts of the EAST framework – specifically:

  • Easy – just watch for the colour change to know how much you’ve used and make an informed decision about when to get out.
  • Attractive – it may not be the cheapest showerhead, but I’ve certainly seen more expensive ones on the market and it looks to give a good flow rate/pattern (functionally attractive)
  • Timely – what better time to provide a behavioural nudge than at the point of use?

The showerhead links up to your smartphone (bonus tech points as far as I’m concerned), but I’m not sure if it can share your water reducing behaviours with your communities in the same way than fitness apps do for your daily exercise.  If it does do this, then that could be a powerful lever in motivating individuals to change their behaviour, especially if they’ve made a public commitment. It could even allow social comparisons to be made (there could also be a social norming effect here if individual showers or showers over time are above/below local averages.  Gas/electric companies have been doing this for a while on my bills and Google Fit tells me how active I’ve been in comparison to the rest of my town).

There’s a line here pointing to the Smart Meters which UK power companies keep suggesting that we install to get our power use under control – so the idea of minute-by-minute monitoring isn’t that far fetched.  In a way, this kind of self surveillance is already a social norm, as is the idea of using a phone to track/monitor/programme everything from our health to our central heating.

Taking the connected-home tech buzz out of the equation for a minute, I think that this is a really simple answer to a straight-forward question:  How do we make it simple for people to know how much water they use and make positive, trackable, efforts to reduce it?

It also perfectly underlines why we, as social marketing practitioners, should find every opportunity to ‘Show, Not Tell’ as we roll out our behaviour change programmes…  Make it visible, make it easy and, if possible, make it fun too…



I’d just like to make it clear that I am not connected to Hydrao in any way, have received no compensation for this post and haven’t had a showerhead to trial and review.  However, if the company would like to supply me with one, I’ll gladly update this post and write an unbiased review over on  #ShamelessPleaForGoodies.


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