Long Beach Water’s Turf Removal Program Case Study
Using Behavioral Research to Guide Communications Decisions

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Article by Andrea Antony, CivicSpark Water Fellow for Long Beach Water 

Long Beach Water has been successfully helping its customers replace thirsty turf with beautiful, water-wise landscapes through its award-winning, Lawn-to-Garden (L2G) incentive program for eight years. So far, over three million square feet of turf has been replaced and 3,500 California-friendly gardens have been planted. Now, the agency is looking to increase participation through a new framework known as community-based social marketing (CBSM).

 CBSM’s goal is to utilize direct contact with people to speak to their personal values and use social science knowledge to create sustainable behaviors. Once those personal values are identified, CBSM strategies are implemented to address community needs. This method has been proven successful in the energy sector, but is still being explored in the water industry.

 As such, California Water Efficiency Partnership (CalWEP) developed a “CBSM Toolkit,” which includes research and suggestions on how to use this framework. As a member of CalWEP, Long Beach Water, along with two other water agencies, East Bay Municipal Utilities District and Rancho California Water District, created a partnership survey to identify our communities’ feelings and perceptions around water-wise landscapes. 

 Long Beach Water sent the survey to 8,000 of its customers; 4,000 that were categorized as high water use customers and 4,000 that lived in neighborhoods with low L2G program enrollment, analyzed through GIS and Excel. The neighborhoods with low enrollment numbers were typically concentrated in either low or very high income areas, as well as coastal areas.

 Historically, Long Beach Water only receives about an 8 percent survey response rate. To increase survey responses, pre-notification postcards were mailed to all 8,000 recipients five days before they were emailed a link to the survey. The recipients also received two email reminders after the initial survey invitation. The survey remained open for one month and received 1,054 responses. With the additional communication about the survey, the agency received an 11 percent response rate.  

 Long Beach Water is performing its own initial data analysis and is working with a research agency for advanced data analysis. The survey has shown that residents are more concerned with saving water and money and protecting the environment than they are motivated to impress their neighbors and improve their neighborhood. It was also found that residents are interested in water-wise gardens, and unwilling to pay higher water bills to keep their grass lawns green. The greatest barriers to removing grass and installing a water-wise garden are the upfront investments, in both time and money.

 The information provided from the survey will give the agency a framework to make improvements in communications and marketing of the program. The survey shows that the community values water but is cautious of investing their own resources. Given this information, Long Beach Water is seeking to educate residents on the long-term cost, water and time savings of having a low maintenance, water-wise garden versus a grass landscape. CBSM tactics the agency is also exploring include continuing to work with social influencers to encourage water-wise habits and creating simple, informative infographics for targeted areas.

 Long Beach Water is excited to implement its research findings and CBSM strategies to create permanent, water-wise lifestyles in our community. For more information about the Lawn-to-Garden program visitlblawntogarden.com.

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