Conservation Corner: Introducing social marketing

Conservation corner - summer 2005

By way of introduction, I coordinate the City of Kelowna’s Water Smart program and I assist other municipalities with their water conservation efforts. But my background was not water related; I was creative director of an advertising agency for many years. 

When I was hired in 1996 to develop Kelowna’s program, I thought it would be easy to achieve the utility’s targets for reductions in water use. Surely the same marketing principles I used for General Motors and other clients could be applied to a water conservation program.

I quickly found out how wrong I was. There is a huge difference between encouraging people to buy something and encouraging people to permanently change their behavior. The former can be accomplished with a short-term promotion; the latter often requires years of effort.

Many water purveyors believe that if they simply make their customers aware of the need for conservation, then their customers will respond. But awareness doesn’t necessarily lead to action. That’s where social marketing comes in. Social marketing tells us there are three basic ways to facilitate behavior change: 

  1. Make the undesired behavior inconvenient
  2. Make the undesired behavior more expensive
  3. Make the undesired behavior socially unacceptable.

It’s not rocket science, but many public education programs fail to achieve their desired goals because of flawed plans, poor execution, or lack of resources.  Hopefully the information from Conservation Corner will help you get more results from your public education efforts.


By Neal Klassen, BCWWA “Watermark” contributor


Posted January 2006

Originally published in the Spring 2005 issue of Watermark Magazine, the official publication of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA).

For more information contact Neal Klassen at