PDX: Simple Text Improves Water Conservation

(c) 2013 Bruce Forster Photographycredit: Port of Portlandcredit: Port of Portland

By Lisa Appel, DEL-MEM ’15

Have you ever read the text associated with a “Water Saving Dual Function Handle” on a sign in a public restroom? If you answered no, you are not alone. While the text is motivational, these signs are often too complex and may not be effective in encouraging users to make a conscious decision to save water.

Portland International Airport (PDX) recently took on the challenge of reducing water consumption by the more than 50,000 travelers that pass through each day.  Recognizing the minimal amount of time that people glance at the sign, our PDX environmental team led the effort to simplify the complicated signage associated with the dual-function toilet handles in the airport’s restrooms.

The social marketing classes in the Executive Education Environmental Communication Certificate Program directly informed the restroom water efficiency project. The classes give you the tools and process to target a specific behavior, identify its barriers and benefits, and design communications to effectively address it.

Improving the signage resulted in notable water conservation. After installation of the new signs (pictured in the right, below), use of the feature increased by 28 percent, amounting to thousands of gallons conserved each day in a region where water conservation is of particular importance.

The improved signage is also yielding triple-bottom line sustainability benefits. Our team estimates that if only 20 percent of the users change behavior, it will save about 2,920,000 gallons per year, which equates to $16,000 in savings. With more user-friendly language, the signage also transcends language barriers and gives travelers the opportunity to directly contribute to the airport’s environmental performance.

Get a jump start on your own organization’s social marketing campaigns with the Environmental Communications for Behavior Change course, starting on Jan. 22, 2018.  If you have questions about the project, please contact Lisa Appel, Environmental Outreach Manager, at lisa.appel@portofportland.com.