Want your conservation campaign to succeed?
Corey Diamond thinks you should copy the electricity guys.
What drives people to take action on social and environmental issues? On business trips, I often use time in airports and taxis to chat with travellers about their concerns. When the water conversation comes up, most people tell me it’s not a concern. There’s lots of water; why would we need to use less?
But there’s a myth of abundance, and Canadians are incredible water wasters. In its Environmental Performance Indicators, the Conference Board of Canada suggests that excessive water withdrawals could be attributed to the lack of widespread conservation practices.
It’s time to truly engage the public on water issues. The best way to do it? Copy the electricity guys. Here’s how they’ve done it.
1. Get the funding right
Energy conservation and efficiency in Canada is supported by a regulatory regime that results in real action. Local utilities in Ontario are mandated to deliver energy savings programs to their customers, and their costs are recovered through a system that rewards results and innovation. For provincial utilities like SaskPower, energy conservation targets are set by the same people who
manage generation. Why is this not the case for the water
industry? Typical water departments are given budgets to engage businesses and homeowners on water efficiency, but this is not in any way tied to the health and well-being of the local water system. And time and time again, the water efficiency departments are competing for budgets with other priorities. The electricity and water system operators should join forces to determine how to incorporate water efficiency targets with overall water system operation.
2. Use the meters
The City of Toronto is in the midst of replacing 465,000 water meters to automatic meters. Soon, small businesses and homeowners will be able to truly understand the impact of their use. A meter, however, will not benefit consumers until an accompanying program encourages action. When Toronto Hydro implemented smart meters, it launched the Summer Challenge. Homeowners that reduced peak demand by 10 per cent, summer over summer, received a 10 per cent discount on their next bill. Electric utilities across North America are launching programs
to enable homeowners and businesses to compare their electricity demand to their neighbours. For example, iPad apps and household gadgets give people the tools to manage their load. The same engagement tools could be used to encourage water conservation.
3. Bring retailers on side
Let the retailers do the consumer engagement work. Some of Canada’s electric utilities have struck partnerships with the Home Depots of the world to drive sales. For instance, Efficiency Nova Scotia engaged 217 retail locations this spring. By training store associates and connecting the supply chain to co-fund the program, they’re going beyond in-store rebates and signage to drive action.
Let’s invest in real actions that lead to long-term change for water conservation. The ideas already exist; what are we waiting for? WC
About Corey Diamond
Corey Diamond works with Summerhill Group to create some of Canada’s largest consumer engagement programs.