Public and Consumer Education Programs
Educating the public is a necessary facet of every consumer water conservation program. The programs are implemented for a variety of reasons, but successful efforts all share common attributes. The key goals of a public education program are to inform and educate the:
- reasons water conservation is necessary,
- benefits of conserving water,
- liabilities of not conserving water, and
- actions needed to achieve the water conservation goals.
The most common use of public education programs is to obtain immediate behavioral changes in times of water shortages, such as drought or water supply interruptions. There are many documented cases programs have obtained very effective results in reducing water usage during times of crises. Some utilities report customers reducing water usage by more than 20%, after alerting and educating the public. The water use reductions can be impressive and effective for short periods of time. Most water reductions are due to customer behavioral changes (shorter showers, less lawn watering, etc.). These behavioral changes wane over time, usually losing all conservation effect in less than one year, even when the public awareness campaign continues. Despite the initial effectiveness and importance, public education programs are not, in and of themselves, an effective long term water conservation strategy.
Three good examples of public and consumer education programs include:
A public education program is a very important element of a broad-based water conservation strategy. Research has proven public education programs can improve the effectiveness of active water conservation programs, such as water fixture and appliance retrofit or replacement programs. As the water conservation knowledge of customers improves, the customers are more likely to participate in other programs offered by the utility. In addition, the customers are more likely to make wiser decisions when choosing water conservation fixtures and appliance. Long term water conservation is dependant on customers replacing water wasting appliances and fixtures; public education on water conservation helps customers make better decisions when purchasing new products or replacing old fixtures and appliances.
An effective program often uses multiple methods and media to present the educational information to the customer. It is a known factor in advertising that using multiple media and repeating the message has a synergistic effect in the customer retaining the information you present. Advertisement professionals profess that a person must hear a message more than three times, on three separate occasions before the message is retained in long term memory. Water utilities have a great variety of formats to deliver educational messages, including: public service announcements, radio, TV, newspapers, local street fairs and events, direct mail; utility newsletters, bill stuffers, messages on bills, web sites; etc. Successful public education programs often use a common theme (logo, motto and/or spokesperson) throughout all the different educational messages.
Water utilities looking to implement public education programs have many fine examples of successful programs to mimic or garner ideas. Most government owned utilities are pleased to share ideas and offer advice for effective programs. Caution is advised to investigate the aspects other programs might be under copyright or trademark protection. Many utility programs are under a license agreement from private enterprise for theme and materials.
AWE has produced numerous resources and tools to help utilities more effectively communicate with customers, including:
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