When I signed up for the Master Watershed Stewards program two years ago, I did so because I wanted to learn how to help improve the water quality in the Severn and Magothy river watersheds. The training I received through weekly classes and practical “hands on” projects greatly increased my knowledge and awareness of ways through which I could help reverse the effects of pollution in our waterways.
During the last two years, I enthusiastically shared that knowledge with my neighbors and the people who attended the various events where I helped staff an outreach and information display. I really believed that once people were provided with good information about how to reduce pollution they would begin to change their behavior in order to improve the environment.
Unfortunately, I would soon learn that even though people generally reacted favorably to information about the many ways to reduce water pollution they were not always likely to change their behavior patterns. It turns out that getting people to change their behavior, even when they agree with the suggested change, is not as easy as just providing them with information.
In his book Fostering Sustainable Behavior, author Douglas McKenzie-Mohr examines the many barriers and benefits that need to be identified in order to get people to adopt environmentally sustainable behaviors in their daily living. Identifying the barriers or benefits needed to effect behavior change is accomplished by methods such as taking surveys, conducting interviews, and facilitating focus groups.
As an example, take the promotion and sales of rain barrels. The Watershed Stewards Academy learned that while many people eagerly purchase a rain barrel as a means to help reduce stormwater runoff, in some instances the barrel is not installed once it is brought home.
By interviewing and surveying people who purchased rain barrels, it was discovered that the main barrier preventing the installation of a barrel is that many people do not feel comfortable doing the installation process themselves. It turned out that offering and providing installation assistance was the key to getting people to use the rain barrel they had purchased.
Making a change in behavior to benefit the environment can be as simple as using less water while showering or using reusable grocery bags, but actually making a change in our behavior is not always as easy as it seems. Just learning information about an issue is often not sufficient to bring about a desired change in our behavior.
If you are interested in learning more about how to improve the health of our local waterways, the Watershed Stewards Academy will be conducting several informational meetings this summer on Aug. 6, 21, 27 or Sept. 5.
All informational sessions will be held at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.