Consuming water smartly: the significance of sociocultural differences to water-saving initiatives

Watson, Sophie (2017). Consuming water smartly: the significance of sociocultural differences to water-saving initiatives. Local Environment, 22(10) pp. 1237–1251.



This article explores how strategies to encourage households to consume less water, through education and the installation of smart meters, play out in actual social worlds where the texture and complexity of households, and the individuals within them, have a tendency to be simplified to average or statistical norms. Building on research and critical analysis from earlier studies, particularly in Australia, this research set out to explore Thames Water’s smarter home initiative deploying three frames – affect, habit, and the meaning of home – for thinking through the different responses of householders to the intervention. The study revealed that differences in response to the smarter home visit were articulated across income, education, gender, age, and ethnicity – not as homogenous or fixed categories, but rather as categories which emerged through the smart metering intervention. The research concluded that demand management interventions such as the smarter home visits, conceived as a relatively simple technology-driven behavioural change strategy, are more complex and nuanced in their reception and effects, especially on the user–provider relationship, in the constitution of social differences, and in the definitions of public and private spaces and practices. Acceptance or resistance of these programmes is not knowable in advance of their dissemination. For such interventions to be successful, water companies thus need to recognise the differentiated social, cultural, and economic environments in which their strategies are enacted. A failure to do so can only limit their stated objectives of reducing household water consumption.

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