How communal habit hacking continues to save Californian water
When there is a drought, everyone saves water and this is great! It is not different for the Californians living in the Soquel Greek Water District near San Francisco, what is different for them, even when the rain starts to fall is that they will continue to preserve this precious resource – so we hope – with this communal habit hacking project.
The California drought has resulted in heightened awareness of water preservation resulting in unprecedented water savings. However, data from previous droughts (see graph) has shown that such water use reductions are only short term until the rains return and people fall back into their old habits. This return to ‘normal’ is especially unfortunate for the communities in many parts of the world that depend on groundwater supplies that are oversubscribed and need sustained conservation efforts.
Since the data shows that California’s water saving efforts are likely deliberate short-term customer choices in response to the current drought, and thanks to the innovative will of the SqCWD Board of Directors, the ‘Good Habit Encouragement Project’ was developed with my colleague Leigh Ann Gessner and consultant Julia Townsend to encourage the continuation of customer conservation efforts so that they become natural and automatic habits.
Behavioural science and positive psychology have made great strides in identifying ways to develop a ‘decision or choice architecture’ that leads to better outcomes and can build beneficial habits. Choice architecture and behavioural-based interventions are used to help nudge people in making decisions to continue their water-saving efforts. Thaler and Sunstein (2009) defined a ‘nudge’ as an effort that, ‘tries to influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off as judged by themselves.’