A campground nudge that reduces water waste

zero waste camping

Showers on camping trips are a quick affair where I don’t bother washing my hair with soap. There’s no point when we’re in and out of the saltwater all weekend.

However, some campers take the longest showers imaginable, my bugbear. Long showers lead to water waste and lineups. So I appreciated this ‘nudge’ I noticed at a campground on the Central Coast of NSW.

A few years back economist Richard Thaler (who later won the Nobel Prize) and Cass Sunstein co-wrote a book called Nudge about choice architecture. The book examines the ways we choose from what is available to us, even if it’s not necessarily in our best interest. Our environments either discourage or encourage behaviours. The authors argue for adjusting defaults to encourage better outcomes where it’s very important for us to make better choices. Superannuation savings here in Australia is an example of this type of liberal paternalism. This water-saving camp shower setup is another.

water waste

The shower at this campsite is free for campers to use, but stops after four minutes. It only restarts after a three minute break. The sign communicates that it’s not broken when that happens.

Before, one could take an unlimited, uninterrupted shower of 10 or even 20 minutes. The tap was on until you chose to turn it off. The default before enabled water waste.

Now, the shower turns off by design after a reasonable wash time. Theoretically a long but interrupted shower is possible, if you’re willing to wait. We still have a choice, but the default is to be conservative with water.

zero waste camping

If we assume the shower flow is eight litres per minute – generous, given that many shower heads still use 12 – 22 litres per minute – a 20 minute shower would use 160 litres of freshwater. With the new defaults, it’s extremely unlikely someone will use more than 32L per shower. Small change, big savings. And all because we humans are wired to respond to the choices available.

Have you seen any good examples of nudges lately?

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