There is a water problem on planet Earth. We are running out of clean water to use because we are using up our limited fresh water supply at an untenable rate.
You would not assume this when using the average kitchen faucet: water appears to flow infinitely. We lift the handle, interact with a 13 inch stream of water for a few seconds, and then it’s gone–down the drain like magic.
For most of us, the ease with which we access and use water in our daily lives sits in stark contrast with what we increasingly know to be true: the stuff is scarce. The very unit of measure by which we are billed for its usage, CCF (748 gallon increments), is so generous it makes this vital substance appear cheaply abundant not to mention infinite. Furthermore, while CCF measurements allow us to calculate average usage, utility bills don’t isolate specific activities like washing dishes or brushing teeth, so there is no way to pinpoint where water is being overused–and where it could be conserved.
Recognizing this fact, the interaction design team at Teague decided to make a device that allowed us to take a measurement at points of use. Working with our in-house physical prototyper, the team built a Wi-Fi connected water meter and attached it to the faucet in our studio kitchen.
In our first attempt, we installed the water meter and informed our colleagues about the effort while we monitored usage from our desks. Unfortunately, the low cost perception and relative routine of faucet usage resulted in only slight conservation improvements. Beyond comments on the faucet spinner and the blinking lights of the prototype, people’s behaviors hardly changed at all.
After some reflection, we decided to display the results of their usage in real time by hooking the meter up to an iPad™ we placed at the sink. The presence of real time feedback had an immediate impact on usage. The soothing gush of water was sacrificed for the honor of the lowest usage score. On average, gallons of water were conserved. In a single task – like hand washing – water use was reduced from 2.0 gallons to 0.5 gallons – a savings of 1.5 gallons!
The gallons of saved water started piling up. Faced with this surplus of water, we started to think of what could be done with all the virtual water we were saving. After some consideration and a couple of group meets, we arrived at the decision to give our surplus to those in need of fresh drinking water.
But the global water issue is a complex one. Our neighbors in need can be thousands of miles away. It’s not economically or ecologically viable to bottle up the water we conserve and airmail it to villagers in Africa or Asia. A quick tabulation revealed that sending just a few gallons of water would cost nearly $100!
A little more research led us to a more efficient way to donate our virtual water surplus.
The organization charity: water is able to deliver 100% of donations directly to water projects. A donation of just $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years.
Teague is kicking off a 3 month campaign to raise $10,000 for water projects through charity: water. That amounts to 20 years of clean water for 500 people. As an added bonus, Teague will match every dollar amount donated through our campaign until we reach our goal of $10,000.
In no way have we solved the global water crisis by installing a water meter on our studio faucet. If anything, this exercise has revealed how complex the water system is. Visualizing water use at the point of contact has lead to a change in our behavior. It has moved us to conserve and to take action. We hope you will take action too.