Plug-it: Working with intermediaries as facilitators of change to the way people live or consume

Funded by: Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)


August 2010 to June 2012

PSI researchers:

Ben Fagan-Watson

Background, summary and aims

Background, Scope and Aims

Climate change, population growth and demographic shift mean that there is increasing stress on both the water environment and public water supplies in the UK. At the same time, we have higher water consumption levels than most of our European neighbours and this consumption is predicted to grow. Public understanding of water issues is low and tackling this requires a range of measures. This project will develop tools that will enable trusted intermediaries (plumbers, retail store assistants, etc) to assist people to make water-efficient choices as they are purchasing or sourcing new kitchen and bathroom fittings and white goods, which is a 'moment of change' at which water-efficient behaviour can be introduced or reinforced.

The project is based on the belief that while these professionals are currently well-equipped to advise their customers on aesthetics and price, they are not armed with the tools to provide information on the water efficiency of the same products, nor to explain effectively how small adjustments in individual behaviour with regards to water use can have a wider environmental benefit.

Project Design

Through working closely with a sample group of retail-store assistants and plumbers, the Plug-it project aims to use co-design - an innovative action-based research, design and engagement process – to generate a set of tools to enable them and their peers to better communicate these issues to their customers, and offer attractive ways to encourage pro-environmental purchasing choices and behaviour in the home and at work.

The project will put designers together with several key stakeholders in the water network – professionals, consumers and water companies - to design a training kit that will better equip public-facing ‘water professionals’ to advise their customers about the products and services that would enable more responsible consumption of water. It will also evaluate the potential for a peer-to-peer network within the water industry to disseminate these skills and knowledge of sustainability among professionals, adding value to plumbers and the services they provide. The co-design process will ensure that the tools add value for the intermediaries as well as for the consumer.

Importance of research

The Plug-it project will allow us to explore the ways in which the adoption of pro-environmental behaviours may be encouraged both in the home and in the workplace through intermediaries in the water sector. The resulting output will form the basis for a toolkit for retailers, water companies and plumbers.

We will develop and test a set of tools to facilitate communication by sales staff and plumbers of water-saving issues with the public. Our goal is to then explore the best way of getting sales staff and plumbers across the country to incorporate and disseminate these tools into their every-day professional practice.