Covet thy neighbor’s water bill: It’s good for the planet

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Company:

WaterSmart Software

Innovation:

Created software that reduces consumers' water usage by employing behavioral science.

Issue:

water conservation

Results:

Reduced water usage by 5% over six months through behavioral changes alone in test market.

 

What do you spend on your water bill every month? How much water do you use? How much does your neighbor use? Would knowing how much water your neighbor uses affect your water bill? WaterSmart Software thinks so. The San Francisco based company attempts to change consumers’ relationship with water. To do this, its software draws on behavioral science methodologies to create water usage reports that will engage consumers and shape their water use.[1] Unlike your average utility bill, WaterSmart Software bills are easy to understand and employ clear visuals to convey how much and how the customer is using water. These bills stress that water used equals money spent, and are delivered often—twice a month instead of once.[2] WaterSmart Software has been compared to OPower, a business that employs similar approaches to reduce energy consumption. 

So far, WaterSmart Software has only partnered with water utilities in California. It has demonstrated in test markets that its software can reduce water usage by 5% over the first six months without installing new equipment. The software allows utilities to provide customers with targeted recommendations for reducing water usage.[3] Many of these utilities have found that the effectiveness of traditional programs for reducing water use, such as subsidizing low-flow shower heads, has plateaued.[4] WaterSmart plans to move into other water stressed areas of the country soon.

Water conservation needs attention now to anticipate future increases in demand and possible shortages. Demand for water is likely to go up globally by roughly 40% over the next 20 years to meet the needs of a growing population and changing living standards. At the same time, clean water resources are threatened by pollution and changing weather patterns.[5] WaterSmart Software reminds us that consumer behavior is one very important piece of the water conservation puzzle.




[1] “Press Release: WaterSmart Software Helps Reduce Water Use for City of Cotati, CA,” Reuters, 18 September 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/18/idUS146922+18-Sep-2012+BW20120918, accessed 29 July 2013.

[2] “Project Profile: WaterSmart Software,” California Water Foundation, http://californiawaterfoundation.org/uploads/1363734622-CWFProjectProfile-WATERSMART.pdf, accessed 29 July 2013; “Software innovator reduces residential water use at three local utilities,” Municipal Sewer & Water, 6 December 2012, http://www.mswmag.com/online_exclusives/2012/12/software_innovator_reduces_residential_water_use_at_three_local_utilities, accessed 29 July 2013.

[3] “Project Profile: WaterSmart Software,” California Water Foundation.

[4] Marc Gunther, “Pennies down the drain,” Marc Gunther: Business. Sustainability. 15 January 2012, http://www.marcgunther.com/pennies-down-the-drain/, accessed 29 July 2013.

[5] Gunther, “Pennies down the drain.”

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Shannon recently completed a master’s degree in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on the religious dimensions of social and environmental justice movements in the twentieth-century American South. Before moving to North Carolina, Shannon...
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