Climate change, population growth and demographic shift mean that there is increasing stress on both the water environment and public water supplies in the UK. At the same time we have higher water consumption levels than most of our European neighbours and this consumption is predicted to grow. Increased consumption will have impacts for water resources but also for climate change as heating water in the home accounts for around 5% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. Public understanding of water issues is low and tackling this requires a range of measures. This project will develop tools that will enable trusted intermediaries (plumbers, retail store assistants, etc.) to assist people to make water efficient choices as they are purchasing or sourcing new kitchen and bathroom fittings and white goods, which is a `moment of change` at which water efficient behaviour can be introduced or reinforced.
Our feeling is that while these professionals are currently well-equipped to advise their customers on aesthetics and price, they are not armed with the tools to provide information on the water efficiency of the same products, nor to explain effectively how small adjustments in individual behaviour with regards to water use can have a wider environmental benefit.
Water infrastructure is such that it is exceptionally difficult for a consumer to perceive either the amount of water really being used, or the impact of that use along the entire system. To tackle the issue from all angles requires not just new fixtures and fittings, but more knowledgeable consumers, changes of habits, professionals educated in sustainability and an industry that considers water efficiency measures among its core business.
Through working closely with a sample group of retail store assistants and plumbers, the Plug-it project aims to use co-design - an innovative action-based research, design and engagement process – to generate a set of tools to enable them and their peers to better communicate these issues to their customers, and offer attractive ways to encourage pro-environmental purchasing choices and behaviour in the home and at work.
The project will put designers together with several key stakeholders in the water network – professionals, consumers and water companies - to design a training kit that will better equip public-facing 'water professionals' to advise their customers about the products and services that would enable more responsible consumption of water.
It will also evaluate the potential for a peer-to-peer network within the water industry to disseminate these skills and knowledge of sustainability among professionals, adding value to plumbers and the services they provide.
The co-design process will ensure that the tools add value for the intermediaries as well as for the consumer. The project will look at the `what's in it for me` perspective of the professional. For example, the tools should empower a plumber to give better advice moving him/her from just fitting products to providing a design solution for the client, such as providing a pumped mixer shower with an aerated water saving head rather than the `power shower` the customer requested. The cost fitting may be higher but the running costs will be a lot lower and there will be environmental benefits, so the plumber will generate more work, and be viewed as a knowledgeable professional and an environmental champion.