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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Bengaluru: IIMB researchers use behavioural intervention to mitigate water wastage in households

IIMB officials claimed that this study was amongst the first conducted anywhere in the world that used behavioural interventions alone to influence household water conservation that persists over the long term.

Written by Ralph Alex Arakal | Bengaluru |
June 25, 2021 6:45:51 pm
There are 91.91 lakh households in rural Karnataka, of which 28 lakh houses get tap water to date, according to the Chief Minister's Office (Representational/File)

Tend to leave the tap open while brushing teeth or during the entire time taken to complete a shower? This might adversely affect efforts towards water conservation, but a multi-year study conducted by the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) has indicated that such behavioural traits can be intervened to channelise them towards a better purpose.

The possibility of such an intervention was tested during a field experiment conducted in an affluent residential community in Bengaluru, a team of IIMB researchers said. The team comprising Vivek, a recent PhD graduate, Deepak Malghan, Associate Professor of Public Policy, and Kanchan Mukherjee, Professor of Organizational Behaviour, claimed that a habit change was implemented in the experiment that was conducted over two years.

Explaining the process, the team said that the unconscious behaviour of leaving the tap on was first brought into the conscious awareness of the people through appropriate messaging. “This, coupled with water-saving tips, helped consumers cut back on wastage of a crucial resource,” they said.

The team also noted that the effect lasted for the entire observation period of two years even after the five-week-long intervention concluded. “Interestingly, it yielded a reduction of 15 to 25 per cent in household water consumption. More importantly, establishing the potential of using behavioural methods to achieve a significant long-term reduction in water consumption,” the researchers said.

Further, Prof. Mukherjee noted that when people act in a particular way repeatedly, such as taking a shower every day, they do it in an automatic mode without much conscious thought. “That is why attempts to persuade people to conserve water by appealing to their better senses have had limited success. People may get influenced by these messages temporarily, but the force of habit eventually takes over and behaviour change is short-lived,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vivek said the messaging consisted of three incremental parts – daily water usage information for each family (Part A), a water usage goal (per-person limit) and feedback on it (Part B), and sharing easy tips on water saving (Part C).

“The households were randomly divided into three test groups and a control group. The three test groups received one of only part A, parts A and B or all three parts of the information. The households that received all three parts conserved most water compared to the control group and persisted at the reduced level of water usage for the entire observation period,” he said describing the results.

At the same time, Malghan said that such interventions could be a powerful tool to address growing freshwater scarcity in cities. “These findings also expand the scope of behavioural interventions to numerous other settings, such as in the larger environment and resource sectors, without the political and social difficulties associated with price-based policies,” he said.

The study has been published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), a peer-reviewed journal. IIMB officials have claimed that it was amongst the first conducted anywhere in the world that used behavioural interventions alone to influence household water conservation that persists over the long term.

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