Improving Water Conservation in Smith College Housing through Environmental Education (2011)

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The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that increased signage, shower timers, and educational events would change behavioural patterns in Smith College housing and encourage students to reduce water consumption. Success in reducing water consumption was contingent on an active sustainability representative living in the house.

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that increased signage, shower timers, and educational events would change behavioral patterns in Smith College housing and encourage students to reduce water consumption. Three houses on campus were chosen for this study based on their capacity to meter daily water use. Two houses received educational materials while one did not, and the impacts on water consumption were measured. Data on water use before materials went into houses was compared with water use data after the study was implemented. Students across campus were encouraged to participate in an online survey to measure water use patterns in Smith housing.

The results of this study provided support that educational materials and increased awareness of water use will alter behavioral patterns and encourage students to conserve more water. However, this is contingent upon the presence of an active sustainability representative in each house. Findings from the online surveys also supported the proposed need for increased education and transparency of water consumption at Smith College.

Findings from this study and the online survey support recommendations to bolster the sustainability representative program at the college, providing student representatives with additional resources and requiring more active participation in the program. The survey results also indicate students’ willingness to alter their behavioral patterns to consume less water if the college increases signage and implements technical updates. These findings are significant because they are in accordance with the goals of the Smith Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan to reduce the college’s environmental impacts over the next 20 years.

Introduction

In the modern‐day age of environmentalism, water conservation is an area that typically takes a backseat to energy conservation, especially in college housing. Most students know to turn off their

lights, unplug electronics, and set their laptops to go to sleep to reduce their carbon footprint, yet few are aware of the impact that their daily water use has on the environment. Without access to monthly utility bills, students living in dormitories are unaware of the gallons of water per day that they are using, and how much this costs the college. The purpose of this project is to educate students about water use at Smith College, increase transparency of water use records, and influence behavioral changes to encourage conservation efforts in Smith housing.

In 2010, the Smith College Committee on Sustainability passed the Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan (SCAMP), a “20‐year plan to reduce the college’s environmental impact (SCAMP, xi.) The plan includes a detailed section on current water use at the college, and outlines strategies and goals for reduction and improved efficiency over the next 20 years. According to the plan, Smith College used 45.6 million gallons of water in 2009, with an average of 27.4 gallons per student per day (SCAMP, 2‐3). This total annual water use is down from 54.9 million gallons in 2006 (SCAMP, 2), as a result of several infrastructure improvements explained later in this report. The vast majority of Smith’s water consumption goes to housing and dining, with sizable portions used in academic and administrative buildings, the campus cooling plant, a wet lab, and irrigation (see Figure 1). This high percentage of Smith’s total water consumption used in housing and dining demonstrates the likelihood that behavioral changes through education will have a measurable impact.

The Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan “targets saving 1.5 million gallons of water through behavioral change by 2015, and an additional 1 million gallons by 2030” (SCAMP, 4). The college intends on reaching these goals through upgraded metering infrastructure to display water consumption data to students and facilitating inter‐house competitions to reduce water use (SCAMP, 4). The plan outlines seven methods of potential student involvement to meet these goals, three of which were focused on for this project. These were “analysis of water use within specific buildings or

departments,” “development of communication and/or educational materials on water use,” and “development of survey instruments or other methods for analyzing student water use” (SCAMP, 5).

Materials

The Smith College Office of Environmental Sustainability recently ordered a case of plastic shower timers, manufactured by Niagara Conservation. These waterproof five‐minute sand timers are encased in a hard plastic shell and suction to the wall of the shower. Since they were bought in bulk, they only cost the college $1.50 per timer (Manning). The office hopes to distribute these timers to all of the houses on campus, so their distribution and visibility became a focal point of this study.

Educational signage was also designed for the purpose of this study. Signs were designed for shower stalls with timers that included information about water conservation and encouraged students to try the timers. Additional signs were also made specific to water use at sinks and for laundry areas (see appendices).

Additionally, spreadsheets of hourly water use in metered houses were provided by Jen Marcotte of Smith College Facilities Management for analysis in this study. Updated data was sent every few days to track progress.