How schools went to the top of the class for saving water

26 June 2018 - 09:46 By Di Caelers
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File photo.
File photo.
Image: 123RF/maridav

Almost 100 million litres of water have been saved in the last year after remarkable results in a four-school pilot project prompted a rollout to another 100.

Schools were highlighted during Cape Town’s drought as significant water consumers‚ the Water Institute of Southern Africa conference was told on Monday.

Cheroline Ripunda‚ a mechanical engineering student at Stellenbosch University‚ said this prompted her department to investigate potential savings and behaviour change with the installation of smart water meters.

The meters‚ which report water use by the minute to an app that alerts users to unusual spikes‚ were designed and built by Bridgiot‚ a start-up company affiliated to the university.

Ripunda told the conference the first school to get the meter‚ Stellenbosch Primary‚ notched up a 44% decrease in water usage. Another of the initial four schools to get the meters‚ Hector Peterson Secondary in Wallacedene‚ saw an average daily saving of 40kl of water.

Ripunda said sponsorship from Shoprite allowed them to extend the programme to 100 more schools‚ producing a 95 million litre saving since June 2017.

Permanent behaviour change among water users was an overarching theme among speakers at the conference‚ with the SA Water Research Commission’s Jayant Bhagwan warning that consumption in South Africa was far higher than many countries.

While each South African used 235 litres a day‚ on average‚ the global average was 177 litres‚ he said. In some areas of the country‚ consumption ranged between 586 and 1‚100 litres a day.

“That’s why behaviour change is very‚ very necessary‚ but it is a long-term process that requires long-term investment. It’s about changing people’s beliefs and some of their traditions‚ and that requires a new and innovative approach‚” Bhagwan said.

He pointed to a UK study in which behavioural change interventions reduced water usage by 10%. When people responded to the survey‚ they cited reasons such as lack of time and interest for their failure to change water-use habits.

“We need to identify ways to nudge them in the right direction‚ and make sure these are backed up by relevant behavioural messages they’ll actually respond to‚" said Bhagwan.

“One good example is social comparisons‚ like when we show them how they’re stacking up against their neighbours or others in their community. This seems to be an effective nudge.”

- Water Institute of Southern Africa

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