Using Community-Based Social Marketing to Reduce Residential Water Runoff: Behavioral Results from Two Field Experiments
Preventing dry weather water runoff from residential properties is an important way to prevent pollution of stormwater. However, there are many diverse activities that occur on residential properties that are linked with this outcome. For example, car washing, pool draining, over-watering, and poorly maintained irrigation systems are all potential contributors to excess water runoff in residential areas. Instead dry weather water runoff could be contained or captured on the property for ground water recharge or be used to improve water conservation. Traditional approaches to education and outreach have included brochures, fact sheets, and other materials with long lists of the actions that residents can take to prevent pollution. Unfortunately, these campaigns often result in little-to-no behavior change because the target audiences are overwhelmed with too many messages. Additionally, the barriers that prevent people from engaging in seemingly related behaviors can vary significantly. For example, an individual’s reasons for not repairing broken sprinklers are likely very different from their reasons for not watering in shorter intervals. Research has demonstrated that people are more likely to engage in a behavior when there is a focused message promoting a specific action combined with efforts to reduce barriers and enhance benefits to engaging in that action. In this presentation, we report the methods, outreach materials, and results from two pilot studies implemented in San Diego County that used community-based social marketing to target residential water runoff. Study 1 (implemented in 2015) focused on reducing runoff by encouraging residents to repair broken sprinklers. Study 2 (implemented in 2016) focused on reducing runoff by encouraging residents to reduce lawn watering time. The presentation will engage the audience through a series of visual representations of data as well as outreach materials. Audience members will take away examples of tested outreach materials for residential audiences as well as an enhanced understanding of the application of community-based social marketing to stormwater runoff issues. The presentation content fits with the conference theme by emphasizing residential behaviors that help to keep water on landscaped areas that may contribute to groundwater recharge or even augment the water supply on the property by enhancing water conservation. Each of the pilots began with a series of behavioral observations designed to establish a baseline from which to evaluate the effects of the outreach program. The observations included indicators of actual behavior such as ponded water, flow, and observed watering times. Outreach materials for each of the pilot projects were developed based on the results of survey research conducted with residents in comparable communities. Study 1 was based on results of an earlier mail survey focused on barriers and benefits to repairing broken sprinklers. Study 2 utilized results of an in-person survey focused on barriers and benefits to reducing watering time. The outreach strategies consisted of in-person communications through door-to-door visits. Each of the pilot programs were evaluated using an experimental design (with treatment and control neighborhoods) and included measures of actual behavior rather than relying exclusively on self-report. Results indicated that residents modified their outdoor watering behaviors. In addition, response to the outreach materials was extremely positive and residents were welcoming of the in-person discussions at their door. Ongoing monitoring of program results has consisted of observational research and flow data as well as resident feedback gathered by outreach implementation teams.
Jennifer Tabanico is President and owner of Action Research, a firm that specializes in changing behavior for the public good by applying marketing and social science research to outreach programs that promote clean, healthy, and sustainable communities. Jennifer has a Master of Arts degree in Experimental Psychology and more than a decade of experience developing and implementing community-based social marketing programs for public and private agencies. Her work has been published in a variety of outlets including the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Social Influence, and the Handbook on Household Hazardous Waste.