Building Resilient Water Supplies, Don’t Forget the Key Ingredient: Consumers.

As government officials and catalysts like TreePeople and LADWP begin to work more closely together to solve our complex water issues, there has been significant focus on creating policy, programs and incentives to get California through the long-term drought conditions the state is facing. This is all great and very much needed as part of the solution. Kudos to those driving smart policy, product innovation and incentives. However, let’s not forget that in the end, sustainable water conservation is dependent on consumers taking action and changing behavior for the long term. Without motivated and engaged consumers, green grass gets watered daily, rain barrels sit on store shelves and a smart water system doesn’t materialize. We are seeing this pattern continue despite having had the governor call for large-scale conservation. Proof again, that if you build it, they may not come.

So, it’s time to take a different path. It’s time to learn from the experience of our friends in Australia as they faced a decade-long drought and from our own experience with energy efficiency. Let’s pull together the necessary eco-system of water utilities, manufacturers, retailers and installers to create holistic solutions that customers will value and to make the customer experience simple. Let’s do something radical and start with the consumer and build out vs. starting with technology or policy and hoping consumers will accept it. Anyone remember California’s idea to mandate smart thermostats a few years ago? Let’s not rely on mass media “customer education” campaigns that serve as background noise to consumers who simply don’t want to be “educated.” When was the last time you saw a Coke “consumer education” campaign? Let’s stop looking for a one-size-fits-all silver bullet and instead, create a portfolio approach to customer engagement that connects the dots between technology, policy, products and consumers. Let’s also harness consumer engagement best practices such as OPower’s personalized energy reports, SmartPower’s grassroots “find your 4” community engagement approach, and Simple Energy’s gamification platforms, to help consumers make the right decisions. Integrated marketing approaches that have leveraged such best practices have seen significant improvement in adoption of energy efficiency, renewable power and conservation behavior vs. those that do not. There’s no reason not to do the same in the water efficiency world. Bottom line, consumers are the key to conservation.

The tools to create meaningful engagement are out there. It’s time to pull together and turn the vision of thought leaders like TreePeople’s Andy Lipkis of a resilient water supply into reality. It can be done.

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