Transforming personal washing practices

A key area of our research is sustainable household water consumption. The average person in Ireland consumes around 150 litres of treated water per day. Almost 40% of this goes towards personal washing practices – the focus of CONSENSUS’s water research. When trying to encourage lower water use within the home, conventional approaches focus on minor changes, for example making small efficiency improvements to showers, or providing information on environmental impacts. Our study seeks to evaluate how the entire practice of washing could be transformed – noting how both hardware and invisible social and governance systems shape our washing routines and expectations through time and across space.

Phase I CONSENSUS: Future scenarios & transition frameworks

In Phase I of our research, we applied a process of participatory, practice-oriented (POP) backcasting. Elaborated here, this process involved the collaborative design of future scenarios for sustainable washing. Each scenario contains ideas for new technologies, norms, skills and expectations that together could transform how washing is performed. Scenario stories and images, show futures where people adapt their washing behaviour according to natural weather fluctuations, waterless gels are used in times of water stress, and live feedback is provided on water consumption at point of use. Action plans were collaboratively designed containing educational, policy and technological interventions that collectively could transform our washing. We are continuing to explore these results with key stakeholders.

  • Scenario – Aqua Adapt
    Scenario - Aqua Adapt
  • Efficieny-meets-Sufficiency
  • Water Scenario – De-waterise
    Water Scenario - De-waterise
  • Water Transition Framework
    Water Transition Framework
  • Promising washing practices
    Promising washing practices
  • Washing Promising Practices_01
    Washing Promising Practices_01

Phase II CONSENSUS: HomeLabs

Phase II of our research launched in 2014. As part of this “HomeLabs” research, we are continuing to work with cross-sectoral partners from industry, public and the non-governmental sectors, to test and evaluate innovative devices, regulatory  and educational interventions co-designed in our earlier backcasting study. We will implement a combination of these interventions within households, carrying out ethnographic evaluation of people’s experiences. HomeLabs will evaluate whether and how the interventions shape and adjust people’s everyday personal washing practices. This will make theoretical and practical contributions to the field of practice-oriented sustainable behavior change. HomeLabs will also result in recommendations for our partners for new policies, business developments, educational tools and collaborative initiatives aimed at influencing water consumption practices. We are also carrying out a similar HomeLabs research study focusing on food practices including purchasing, cooking, storing and wasting activities. See here for more details on our HomeLabs research.

WaterWise Exhibit: Science Gallery & beyond

The CONSENSUS project developed an installation for the Science Gallery’s Future of Water exhibition based on our future scenarios of sustainable washing. Designed with Chris Judge, Irish illustrator, the exhibit showed three alternative washing scenarios referencing graphic novel and instructional manual styles and drawing upon critical design traditions. Visitors were asked to rate the elements in each scenario that appealed to them. In this way they contribute to the iterative and participatory nature of our research. Our exhibit is continuing to travel globally and has recently been displayed in the New York EyeBeam Art + Technology Center and The Museum in Kitchener, Ontario. The exhibition has been covered in international media including the journal Nature. See below and our exhibition page for more information.

Some outputs from our water research are outlined below, for more information see Publications tab