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Interdisciplinary hot water study increases environmental awareness

By Kylie Gurewitz

In a study that began the summer of 2017, four Puget Sound students, led by Professors Amy Fisher and Lynette Claire, embarked on a research project to study hot water usage at the University. Professor Amy Fisher is a part of the Science, Technology and Society (STS) department, and Professor Lynette Claire is a part of the Business and Leadership department. Several of the involved students are STS majors, but the group includes students studying Business and Leadership, as well as Environmental Policy and Decision Making, and even English. This well-rounded group studied the University’s hot water usage in residence halls and Greek houses by utilizing “citizen science” in addition to community based social media marketing. The Trail sat down with Shelby Kantner, one of the students on the research team, to find out how this research was unique.

This study worked on a volunteer basis, utilizing citizen science, meaning that students recorded their own data. Data collection sheets were left in dorm bathrooms for students who wanted to anonymously record the duration and temperature of their showers. These sheets also gave suggestions for students to take different kinds of showers, such as turning off the water during the shower, or alternating with cold water. The research team studied the data recorded, as well as the impact of the act of recording the data. Kantner described a survey that was done after the study that showed that even if students did not record every shower, that they were made more aware by having the thermometer and timer there.

“We used both citizen science and community-based social marketing,” Kanter said. “The idea behind citizen science is to get people more involved in the actual data collection.” Getting students involved in the data collection seems like an important step, but there is another incentive to this citizen science: “We used it more to bring awareness to how much water consumption and hot water an individual was using,” Kantner said. By contributing data to the study, students were also informing themselves on their own hot-water usage.

Kantner explained that community-based social marketing works alongside citizen science to break down the barriers to important actions such as taking shorter showers. One of the largest barriers was lack of awareness: “People are largely unaware of how much water they consume, and how hot their showers are, and what that equates to with CO2 release and things like that, and one of the ways to combat that barrier was using citizen science to make them more aware.” So, by recording the time and temperature of their showers, students were more aware of the issue, and took shorter showers.

One of the important takeaways from this study could simply be for the University to install thermometers and timers in campus showers. Like most important issues, awareness seems to be the key to future improvement.

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