Neighborhood Influences On Water Conservation


conservationDid you know “peer pressure” can affect lawn watering habits and conservation? University of Florida researcher Laura Warner studies the social behaviors that lead to water use and conservation. Her newest research, published in Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, shows that people are heavily influenced by what others do and what others expect—even with issues such as lawn irrigation. In other words, we take our lead from people beyond our significant other and friends. Using this data, Warner believes she can help communities lower their water use.

“There is an opportunity to make water conservation more visible through conversations, with influential groups sharing conservation practices with those they influence,” said Warner, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural education and communication. “To influence others, people who care about saving water need to explicitly share what they personally do to save water.”

Conversely, she found that the less you think your neighbors conserve, the more likely you are to conserve water. Instead of aligning with neighbors’ actions, it appears people conserve to make up for a perceived lack of conservation in their neighborhood. Alternately, people might not conserve water because they think their neighbors are conserving enough for everyone. More research is needed to examine this complex community relationship, she said.

Water scarcity is a statewide, national, and global issue. Domestic water demand grew more than 600% from 1960 to 2014. About 75% of U.S. residential water is used outdoor, with more than half of it going to landscape irrigation, according to UF/IFAS.

To perform the study, Warner conducted a national online survey of 2,601 adults. She asked the participants questions about how they water their yards and whether they think different groups of people are engaged in water conservation. She also measured people’s perceptions about how others expect them to act when using water.

In the study, Warner uses terms like “referent groups,” who are people who may influence you—positively or negatively. “Let’s say I have the choice of going for a run in the evening or sitting around watching TV,” she said. “My husband is among my important others, and his actions influence my decisions to a great extent, but I may still be influenced by what the referent group, made up of my neighbors, does. In other words, if my husband goes for a run, I’m very likely to do so, but if I see a bunch of neighbors running by, I’m even more likely to go out and get some exercise.”

“The bottom line is that conservation among people across the U.S. is more aligned with what they think others do versus what others expect,” Warner said. “Applied to my previous example, if my husband goes for a run, I’m more likely to do so myself than if I simply believe he wants me to go running.”

By the same token, if a person thinks most people are conserving water through good irrigation practices, s/he’s more likely to do so. “This is important because irrigation conservation is a somewhat invisible behavior,” she said. “I might mistakenly think most people don’t conserve because I don’t notice that a household’s sprinklers haven’t turned on or I may not see they have water-conserving irrigation technologies installed. In that case, I’m less likely to [conserve water] myself.”

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS photography

The upcoming Turf Summer issue will focus on Sustainability & Green Issues, including an article on water conservation from Conserva Irrigation. You’ll want to reference this issue again and again for green resources. Get your print copy today with a free subscription.

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