A study by UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences has shown that use of behavioural ‘nudges’ can encourage people to conserve water.

Water scarcity is a global issue closely linked with climate change and is one of the UK government’s top environmental priorities. According to Environment Agency predictions, within the next 25 years there will be widespread water scarcity.

Lead researcher, Ellin Lede, carried out this study as part of her PhD research and her findings were published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Lede’s research showed that pro-environmental behaviours are closely tied to ‘ingroups’, for example our neighbours, coworkers and peers. Both conscious and unconscious behaviours were examined, with the research finding that our attitudes, behaviours and emotions can change without our conscious knowledge according to people sharing a social identity with us.

The study was carried out using four sample groups from across Norfolk, two of which were UEA students that live on and off campus. Water saving messages in the form of stickers were introduced to students’ bathrooms. Whilst the message about reducing water use stayed the same, one focused on the fact that other students are also reducing their water use. In the community in-group messaging was used in marketing to persuade homeowners to invest in water saving devices, which showed to increase sign-ups by a significant amount compared to the control group.

Commenting on the importance of this study, Lede said: ‘Ensuring a sustainable water supply requires a multifaceted approach, and this will become increasingly important as demand for water continues to rise and climate change alters water availability.’ This study has clearly demonstrated how the ‘ingroup norm appeal’ technique can be applied to social issues across sectors, and how marketing messages can be tailored for maximum effect. As pointed out by Anglian Water: ‘Something as simple as changing the form of messaging, and in a way that doesn’t cost any more, can make messaging more effective and lead to a change in behaviour.’


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