Raising public awareness (C4.03)

Characteristics

As many water issues need broad public support and understanding, creating water awareness is increasingly seen as important. Information is a powerful tool for raising awareness and empowerment through:

  • Water campaigns
  • Making information available to the general public through inventories etc
  • Provision of information through – eg – product labelling

The aim is to engage the public in such issues as: water conservation; hygienic water use; preservation of wet ecosystems; water user awareness; developing self-regulating water institutions; increasing the willingness to pay or contribute to water services; awareness for planning for emergencies; and strengthening political will (also B1.09). Ideally, public awareness is not a one-way communication, but an interaction of many active stakeholders, who influence each other and provide social control by mutually reinforcing, agreed, sets of values.

Water campaigns can use a number of communication methods such as

  • Direct use of conventional media (printed media, TV, radio) and/or non-conventional media (messages on water bills, games, transport tickets, comic books, etc)
  • Organization of large events and the endorsement of celebrities (generating media attention)
  • Use of existing networks (religious networks, social movements, NGO networks, business associations)
  • Use of logos (e.g. a water drop) to give identity to the campaign.

Choices need to be made on the reach of the campaign, the target group, the desired change in perception and/or behaviour and the likely influence of target group on the campaign outcomes.

Public Access to information has been powerful in raising environmental awareness. Example include the Toxic Release Inventory in the US where companies are required to publish lists of all toxic emissions, which can then be used in other campaigns by eg NGOs and lobby groups. In the water domain, a requirement to publish information can powerfully reinforce other policy tools such as pollution charges (as happened in Germany), or in the PROPER programme in Indonesia. They can also be linked to standards to trade, putting pressure on exporters to improve practise.

Product labelling or environmental certification is a useful tool for raising awareness. ‘Blue’ and ‘green’ labels have been used in water saving devices and eco-friendly products and services. They have encouraged changes in consumption patterns and triggered industries to adopt new standards in often essentially traditional markets like plumbing fixtures or water conveyance. Performance indicators and descriptions on product labels (e.g. showing water consumed in washing machine cycles) are tools which provide information to consumers of water using appliances. Product labelling can encourage industry to adopt new standards and essentially transform traditional markets in areas like plumbing fixtures and water conveyance. This sort of product labelling introduces a profit motive into conservation, and can change producer and consumer behaviour. See also C6 and B2.01. Environmental Management Systems (EMS) such as ISO 14000 use information and declaration of performance to encourage improved practices.

Lessons learned

  • The impact of a water campaign increases if it can be closely followed by tangible action, such as installing water saving devices or cleaning watercourses
  • Campaigns are most effective when they use a well-targeted range of media
  • The use of existing networks can lower the cost of campaigns, and increase the impact
  • Blue and green product labelling has benefited from strong professional associations providing standards.
  • Access to information requires government support, eg to ensure that required information is readily available – through Internet or public libraries etc.
  • The provision of information needs careful management to ensure its relevance and credibility.

Posted: 2013-08-05


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