News Community Based Social Marketing to Reduce Outdoor Water Use

During the summer of 2017, DER piloted two water conservation strategies, targeted at reducing residential summer outdoor water use.
  • Division of Ecological Restoration
A river showing low and no flow.

Reducing non-essential water use, especially in the summer, is an important tool to keep water in our rivers and maintain drinking water supplies. During the summer of 2017, DER worked with the Towns of Wenham and Middleton, the Ipswich River Watershed Association, and the Middleton Stream Team to pilot two different water conservation strategies, targeted at reducing residential summer outdoor water use. The strategies utilized Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM), a method that uses marketing concepts to go beyond traditional education campaigns to influence behaviors.

DER and partners tested two strategies: a ‘social norms’ strategy and a ‘commitment’ strategy. The ‘social norms’ strategy compared individual household’s summer water use to average use in town and provided targeted educational information and feedback on how to reduce use. The ‘commitment’ strategy used door-to door delivery of educational materials and a request to commit to reduce water use.  

We evaluated campaign effectiveness based on reductions in water use as compared to a control group within each community, as well as on a post-pilot mail survey. In both communities, the ‘social norms’ group saw the largest decrease in water use between 2016 and 2017, but the reductions were not statistically significant when compared to the control group. The ‘commitment’ strategy encountered several logistical challenges and saw few changes in water use between years. Survey results showed that those who use the most water rated the educational materials as significantly more helpful for saving water and keeping their lawn healthy. A detailed discussion of the results as well as lessons learned can be found in the final report.

MassDEP is funding additional testing and refinements to the ‘social norms’ campaign in summer 2018. This project will build on the lessons learned in the DER project and test the campaign in three additional communities.

Division of Ecological Restoration 

DER restores and protects rivers, wetlands, and watersheds in Massachusetts for the benefit of people and the environment.