Conservation Corner: Why do some people conserve water, but others do not?


Conservation corner - spring 2006

Why do some people conserve water, while others do not? Take two people living on the same street. They have the same income, the same formal education, the same general background. Yet, one plants a drought-tolerant garden and waters sparingly, while the other rings his yard with cedars and waters twice a day. What gives?

After conducting dozens of focus groups and literally hundreds of conversations with residential water users, I have concluded that it almost always comes down to one thing: the people who demonstrate love and respect for the environment are the people who conserve water (save energy, recycle, etc).

While it is true that measures such as user-pay water rates and watering rstrictions have a major impact on consumption, people who care about the environment would likely conserve water even if those measures were not in place.

So how does one become a steward of the environment? Is it something we learn in school? Is it something our parents teach us? Or is something that comes upon us gradually, through a growing awareness of environmental issues as we become  older and supposedly smarter? It could be all of these things, but research into environmental education suggests that most adults who demonstrate love and respect for the environment were actively engaged in nature as children through the nurturing of a trusted adult.

David Orr, Professor and Chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College in Ohio, says that we already have the knowledge it takes to create a sustainable world. For instance, we already know how to make efficient vehicles and buildings, how to harness renewable energy, how to lay down weapons, how to feed the hungry, etc.

Orr says the problem does not reside with a lack of knowledge, but rather with a lack of the right leadership. And the leaders of tomorrow are the children of today. That is why an engaging elementary school program should be the cornerstone of any community’s water conservation program. Vancouver provides an excellent example of environmental education with ‘The A2Z of H2O,’ a play that educates children from kindergarten to grade three on water efficiency. With characters
from the ‘evil’ water waster to water itself, the play has been seen by almost 100,000 students since 1995.

In central BC, hundreds of students in schools from Osoyoos to Kamloops and Princeton to Trail compete in the annual Environmental Mind Grind Challenge. This is a Jeopardy-style game that tests the student’s knowledge of environmental issues.

Teams from elementary, middle and high school compete fiercely for bragging rights. Teaching children to value the environment is a challenge in our increasingly urbanized society. That it must be done, however, is imperative. After all, as we’ve been told, nature is not something inherited from our parents; it is loaned to us by our children.


By Neal Klassen, BCWWA “Watermark” contributor

Originally published in the Spring 2006 issue of Watermark Magazine, the official publication of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA).