California Drought Impact: Utilizing Employee Engagement Technology to Change Behavior

For the first time in California history, at the start of April, the state imposed mandatory water restrictions in response to the state’s four-year drought. Countless articles have highlighted the drought's impact on communities, agriculture, and residents alike. While opinions differ, consensus does emerge around the idea that every Californian can and should make some change in their behavior to reduce their own water use. But behavior change is hard to do and it involves both raising awareness and providing triggers that both elicit interest and motivation to take action, which over time, will change behavior. Triggers can be utilized in many different ways—the trick is knowing which trigger to use based on a user's likes and dislikes. In order to inspire Californians to reduce their water usage, they need to benefit from technology that will help them become knowledgable about how they can make an impact—and share their experiences with others and inspire change on a large scale.

How Small Changes Can Create Big Impact for the California Drought

In response to the drought, last year 10 WeSpire customers launched our new Drought Busters project in locations affected by the drought. The project, designed as a roadmap for employees to learn about specific actions to reduce water use, helped to raise awareness about the drought’s severity throughout the organization, and provided easy, behavior-changing actions for employees to repeat, like: “turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth”, “wash a full load of laundry”, or “wait to run the dishwasher until it’s full”. The secret to these actions is that each is a repeatable, daily action that individuals can continue to do indefinitely – creating lasting impact not only at work, but at home and in the community. The result?

In just 5 months of running the project, WeSpire customers collectively saved over 7.7 millions gallons of water.

Using Technology to Scale Behavior Change & Impact

California has an opportunity to make significant strides in combatting the drought. Utilizing a project like WeSpire's Drought Busters to drive behavior change and impact, there are three essential steps that California can capitalize on. The project must:

  1. Raise awareness: Often, employees may not even know about all of the programs a company is running, or why they matter. The first step is to raise awareness about the cause so that employees understand why reducing water is important from both an environmental and business standpoint.
  2. Change attitudes: When employees are able to understand the importance of a cause, and how it ties to business operatives, employees can begin to identify with the cause and in turn, feel ownership over their actions. With employee-buy in, attitudes, and as a result, motivation to participate increases.
  3. Form water-saving habits: To form habits, an individual needs to have the right mix of ability to complete the action, and motivation to complete. The latter, is taken care of in step 2, whereas the former relies on the project’s content. WeSpire projects are designed so that all of the information and steps are present for users to easily complete the action, thus increasing a user's ability. In the Drought Busters project, every participant understands not just why the project is important, but has a roadmap of actions to increase their ability in  and form new positive habits.

For each of these three steps outlined, technology helps to maximize the scale and impact. Online engagement platforms are accessible on any device and to any employee — regardless of job function or location — helping companies raise awareness throughout their entire workforce. Having an online community for employees to share their progress and tell their own stories helps change attitudes, and casts a wider net for enticing employees to make similar changes. Lastly, technology like WeSpire’s incorporates behavioral science, and social and game mechanics to help actually form habits compared to short-sided reward-based programs.

The Science Behind Drought Busters

Most of us are familiar with SMART goals: the idea that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. For example, rather than having your goal be “get in shape”, you may have a more specific attainable goal, such as “go for a 2 mile run once a week”. Similarly, the Drought Busters project is made up of over 25 actions that break down an abstract goal, such as “conserve water” into specific and achievable actions. As a result, users form lasting habits so that, turning the water off while you wash your hands becomes not only achievable, but second nature.

When you layer in elements of social and game mechanics, engagement levels rise. Mechanisms like storytelling and leaderboards help companies build a culture around water conservation (or any positive impact program), creating powerful new social norms which entice new users — who potentially may have not felt comfortable previously — to get involved in the project and start modifying their own behavior. For example, some actions on the WeSpire platform allow employees to share their experiences and tips for completing actions and projects. In addition to providing a mechanism for users to reflect on their behavior — an essential element of building lasting habits — technology also helps to build a community that inspires others to make similar changes.

Measurable Results with Positive Impact

In 2014, employees from one company saved over 60 million gallons of water by engaging their employees in water-conservation projects on the WeSpire platform. Since WeSpire projects are designed to help users form habits — through behavioral science, and social and game mechanics — these results will continue to grow and benefit individuals, businesses and ultimately our environment both now and in the long-run.

View WeSpire’s sustainability Behavioral Project Library to learn more about using behavioral technology to improve employee engagement and drive impact.