Customer Attitudes to Water Use and Its Conservation
Aims: Understanding how customers engage with and view their water usage is crucial to the design of more effective water demand management policies and programmes. This paper presents the findings of a small-scale research project that sought to explore customer attitudes to the use of water and its conservation, particularly in the context of seasonal tariffs used during the summer peak usage months (May to August). Study Design: The study adopted a qualitative approach, implemented through a series of face-to-face semi-structured interviews. Place and Duration of Study: The study was conducted with domestic water users in Bishops Stortford, East Hertfordshire (UK). The research was carried out by staff from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University Hertfordshire. The study was conducted over a period of 6 weeks. Methodology: A series of 20 face-to-face semi-structured interviews were carried out with a pre-defined sample population. The selected customers were split into two equal sized groups depending on their relative water usage to reflect either an increase or a decrease in water usage [as a consequence of Affinity Water’s seasonal tariff trial]. Results and Discussion: The study highlights study participants as being disengaged from their water usage and the associated efforts to reduce their usage, so simply increasing water prices at seasonal peak usage times was not, on this occasion, an effective method to adopt to reduce domestic water usage. However, by subsequently exploring customer attitudes towards a selected range of alternative water conservation measures, such as the subsidisation of water efficient appliances, and rebates for reduced water usage, it is established that alternative water conservation measures may have the potential to more effectively encourage a reduction in water usage. However, as the findings of this study also serve to highlight, the issue of ‘institutional trust’ emerges as a key issue to consider when seeking reductions in water usage by increasing its unit cost, with accusation of profiteering looming large. Conclusion: It is suggested that a richer mix of policy responses demand management will be needed to convince domestic water users of the need to reduce their water usage.