Newsflash: Americans Unwilling to Give Up Comfort for the Environment

wasting water is weirdAnd now, in News You Already Knew, we learn that the results of a survey from the Shelton Group indicate that:

Americans are “unwilling to give up comfort and personal freedom for the environment.”

According to their Green Living Pulse survey, 69% of Americans believe it is important to personally reduce water consumption, yet only 26% actually acted on these beliefs by replacing their toilets or showerheads with low-flow alternatives. Less than half of the participants gave up baths in the tub or took shorter showers to reduce their water use, only 4% of them installed rain barrels, and only 6% planted low-water landscaping.

Let’s leave aside the concept of ‘personal freedom’ for now, and just focus on the comfort angle. Because the root of resistance to most changes in our lives can simply be a well-ingrained habit, and to change our habits, we have to start doing things differently, which can be uncomfortable and awkward until the new habit is adopted.

When it comes to the way we view water in our culture, we’ve got some assumptions about water availability and supply (which we probably never bother to fact check), and we also have some expectations about it (such as the assumption that clean, drinkable water will always be available to us at the turn of a knob, whether it’s to flush a toilet or take a shower or water the flowers, and that the same is true for everyone).

Because we’re creatures of habit, when we’re children we develop patterns of behavior based on some mashup of the above assumptions, plus what we see our parents and other adults actually doing when it comes to water use. And the result is that we’re more likely than not to leave the water running while brushing our teeth, or to pour tens of thousands of gallons of water onto the lawn to maintain the appearance of grass that you can’t eat or sell or do anything with except to then cut it back every week (the insanity of our fixation with large expanses of short green grass is fodder for another post).

How do we change those behaviors? Well, we change the way we talk about it, for one. With the new Wasting Water is Weird campaign, there’s a shift in thinking about water which moves away from ideas such as “saving water” and towards those which encourage us to “not waste water”.

“Our consumer surveys show Americans talk a good game about water conservation but take very little action. We’ve found you cannot just tell people they have to stop using water or try to put a positive spin on making a sacrifice. And guilting them into making a change by throwing dire realities at them doesn’t work. This campaign helps consumers make the shift from an automatic behavior to a conscious choice.” – Suzanne Shelton, President and CEO of Shelton Group

Here’s Rip the Drip, for Wasting Water is Weird:

“There’s this moment when using water becomes wasting water. That’s when things start getting weird.”

We all need to learn to be aware of the distinction between using water and wasting water, and to then make small conscious changes to move away from automatic, or habitual, behavior, and toward behavior which supports the idea of water as a valuable resource, and not one to be wasted.

Because it really doesn’t matter what we say we believe in – it only matters what we actually do. And that’s a fact, Jack.

For more info on water conservation, check out the tips at Wasting Water is Weird, and then the resources available at the EPA’s WaterSense site.

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

2 thoughts on “Newsflash: Americans Unwilling to Give Up Comfort for the Environment

  • August 12, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I’ve always considered myself a pretty green girl but I must admit that the water department is my weakness.

    I’m poor, I live in a rented appartment and I’m really sensitive to cold. I am not able to take a 5 minutes shower because it takes me about 3 minutes just adjusting the water temperature! I know it’s awful but the only thing I can do is to buy a low flow shower head, I can’t afford to buy another faucet when I will need to leave it there when I move out. That and to stop showering, which I’m not really sure about, I always shiver watching someone wiping instead of bathing or showering… I think the best solution would be a japanese washroom but here I dream again because I can’t possibly have that! Haha!

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