Panel: Exploring Policy Tools to Influence Pro-Environmental Household Behaviors: Food, Water, and Waste
(Natural Resource, Energy, and Environmental Policy)

Friday, November 9, 2018: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Truman - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Tanya Heikkila, University of Colorado, Denver
Discussants:  Tanya Heikkila, University of Colorado, Denver and Tian Tang, Florida State University

This panel examines the role of household behaviors in achieving environmental policy goals. Household behavior is complex, patterned, and interrelated across material streams of food, energy, and water. As a result, local organizations face myriad challenges in influencing household behaviors while mitigating unintended consequences. This panel explores the predictors of participation in a diversity of programs intended to reduce the environmental impact of cities.


Ranging from program designs using carrots, sticks, and nudges (i.e., rebates, fines, and message framing), our panelists present results from interventions in household water conservation, food waste generation, recycling, and spillover behaviors.  Furthermore, the diversity of data sources herein provides an opportunity to examine the challenges to local organizations in accessing household data to develop evidence-based environmental policy.


The first two papers center on water conservation efforts during one of the worst droughts in California history. The first examines a program in Los Angeles County offering rebates to residents who transform their turf to a drought resistant landscape. This paper uses existing data from voter, property, and turf rebate application databases to examine household drivers of participation.  While price does influence participation, the evidence suggests that spatial and peer effects play a significant role in whether households apply for the turf rebate. 


Those residents who did not satisfactorily reduce their water consumption, via turf transformation or otherwise, also faced financial penalties for poor water stewardship in California. A second paper in our panel uses monthly utility bills to examine whether these penalties were any more effective than communicative management tools. The results indicate that significant gains from informal and formal warnings outweigh the negligible effects of financial penalties.


The final two papers use randomized control trials (RCT) to test whether policy nudges can influence household food waste generation and recycling behaviors. The first paper tests whether communicating the environmental benefits of food waste recycling influences household food waste generation and separation. As the Minnesota city does not currently have a organics collection program, a 6-week pilot was employed to investigate the relationship between food waste generation, recycling behavior, and knowledge of the environmental impact thereof.


The final paper presents results from an RCT in Costa Mesa, CA testing first whether communicating the new norms of food waste separation increases participation in a new curbside organics collection program. Secondly, the authors explore whether new separation behaviors increase waste prevention behaviors in food, energy, and water domains (i.e., 'spillover behavior'). Results from self-report surveys suggest that normative messaging significantly increases participation, and that new "composters" are also more likely to perform energy and water conservation behaviors.


This panel highlights the diversity of tools available to local organizations working to reduce the environmental impact of cities as well as the interrelation of household behaviors across policy domains that otherwise operate in silos (i.e., water utilities, waste management, food provisioning). As research on the food-energy-water nexus expands, greater understanding is needed on the interrelations of household behaviors within and across these domains to maximize program benefits and avoid unintended consequences.